State ferry struck by whale near Kodiak
An Alaska state ferry en route from Homer to Kodiak was struck by a whale that may have died in the collision, according to state and federal officials.
Alaska Marine Highway System spokeswoman Aurah Landau said no passenger or crew injuries were reported aboard the Tustumena, which was hit by a breaching whale near Marmot Bay just before 11:15 a.m. Wednesday.
“The ferry was traveling through an area with lots of whale pods and it was taking its typical precautions to avoid them,” Landau said. “This one just came up at a 90-degree angle and it was impossible to avoid it.”
The whale briefly settled atop the ferry’s starboard stabilizer, a retractable fin which smooths the vessel’s ride, then submerged. The ferry’s captain immediately slowed after the impact and tried to spot the whale, Landau said, but it didn’t resurface.
Julie Speegle, with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said officials believe the whale involved in the collision may be a fin or sei whale, based on photos submitted by passengers to the Tustumena’s crew.
“We’re keeping an eye out for any floating whales,” Speegle said. “It is pretty likely that this whale did not survive.”
Although ships occasionally strike whales in Alaska waters, Speegle said Wednesday’s case was the first she’s seen in eight years at NOAA of a whale striking a ship.
“I don’t know that that that’s ever happened before,” Speegle said.
A NOAA law enforcement officer boarded the Tustumena in Kodiak to speak with crew members and witnesses. Speegle said the crew had been following marine-mammal avoidance procedures and took “appropriate action” during and after the collision.
The Tustumena’s stabilizer was damaged and unable to fully retract, but the damage was inspected by divers in Kodiak. U.S. Coast Guard officials have certified the Tustumena to continue sailing, Landau said, and the damage will likely be repaired during an annual overhaul next February.
Whale strikes involving state ferries are very rare, according to Landau, with just one in the past few years.
“It’s just so sad when something like this happens,” Landau said.
Anyone who sees a floating or injured whale near Kodiak is asked to call the statewide Marine Mammal Stranding Hotline at 877-925-7773.
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