Ships — the only oceangoing entities that rival whales in size — can kill these swimming giants in an instant as they hurtle through their habitat. On a smaller scale, speedboats can painfully injure and kill manatees, among Florida’s most intriguing and iconic endangered species.


Collisions with vessels are the one of the most frequent causes of premature death for several highly endangered marine mammals, including the North Atlantic right whale, blue whale and Florida manatee. Each of these species is already so depleted that the loss of only a few individuals can mean the difference between moving toward recovery or being pushed further toward extinction.

The numbers are staggering: Scientists estimate 80 whales die each year off the U.S. West Coast; and in the Atlantic, roughly a third of all right whale deaths are caused by vessel strikes. These deaths are all unnecessary.

Collisions can be avoided by changing shipping routes to avoid areas where whales congregate, using existing technology to alert captains to nearby whales, and, most effectively, implementing mandatory speed limits. Slowing vessel traffic not only prevents lethal collisions with whales and other creatures; it also reduces air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.


The Center has been leading the charge to protect marine mammals from ship and boat strikes, with a particular focus on the mighty blue whale. Despite clear evidence that collisions are killing treasured marine species, federal officials have been slow to implement protective measures. So in 2007, after five blue whales died off the California coast, we petitioned the National Marine Fisheries Service to set speed limits in the Santa Barbara Channel off California.

Since then we’ve been in and out of court to save whales from ship fatalities, including by working to make federal agencies assess how to better protect whales against ship strikes and calling for shipping speed limits in whale habitat on both coasts.

Our many victories in this campaign include forcing the federal government to keep ship speed limits in North Atlantic right whale habitat.


In Florida, as many as 90 manatees a year are dying from boat strikes. Boats are responsible for about 20% of human-caused manatee deaths, making them the greatest sources of human-caused mortality. Meanwhile boating in Florida is at an all-time high and increasing. The lack of boater-safety education for those born before 1987, the nearly one million registered boats in Florida and the other loopholes for boat rentals continue to be significant hurdles to preventing manatees’ deaths by boat strike. Florida needs to require boater-safety education for all, regardless of age, as a requirement to operate a boat.


The Center’s report Collision Course: The Government's Failing System for Protecting Florida Manatees from Deadly Boat Strikes found that the government's fast-track authorization of watercraft-access projects without analyzing their collective impacts is likely a key factor behind the boat strikes that are still the leading killer of manatees. We’ve also been working — with the help of our supporters — to pressure Florida to improve its boater-education requirements for the sake of manatees and people.


Florida manatee photo © Carol Grant/