Alaska ferry struck by breaching whale, prompting federal investigation

Alaska ferry struck by breaching whale, prompting federal investigation

Outdoors

Alaska ferry struck by breaching whale, prompting federal investigation

Fisheries officials in Alaska are concerned that a large whale that struck a state ferry last week has died and might still represent a navigational hazard.

The MV Tustumena, while traveling from Homer to Kodiak last Wednesday morning, was hit by a breaching whale that briefly came to rest upon a horizontal stabilizer fin on the vessel’s right side.

Whale becomes dislodged after striking ferry. Photo: Alaska Department of Transportation

No injuries were reported among passengers or crew as a result of the bizarre collision, and after a minute or two the whale became dislodged and swam away. The mammal, however, appeared to be seriously injured.

The incident occurred off Marmot Bay. Despite damage to its stabilizing system, the 290-foot ferry was able to complete its voyage.

“The ferry was traveling through an area with lots of whale pods and it was taking its typical precautions to avoid them,” Aurah Landau, a spokeswoman for the Alaska Marine Highway System, told KTVA. “This one just came up at a 90-degree angle and it was impossible to avoid it.”

Landau told Radio Kenai: “This is extremely rare. The Marine Highway System is very protective with the measures that it takes to avoid hitting marine mammals. We actively work to avoid strikes, and then handle them as responsibly as possible when they do happen.”

Julie Speegle, a spokeswoman for NOAA Fisheries, told KTVA that ships in the region occasionally strike whales, but it’s extremely rare for a whale to launch upward and land on a ship.

“I don’t know that it’s ever happened before” in Alaska waters, Speegle said.

Experts believe that the mammal was a fin whale or sei whale – the planet’s second and third largest whale species, respectively. That in itself would be unusual in that these large whales, unlike much smaller and more active humpback whales, rarely breach.

Said Speegle: “We’re keeping an eye out for floating whales [because] it’s pretty likely that this whale did not survive.”

The public is asked to report sightings of dead or injured whales to the state’s Marine Mammal Stranding Network.

–Image showing whale after it became dislodged from ferry is courtesy of the Alaska Department of Transportation; image showing the Tustumena is via Wikipedia

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