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Whale crashes like ‘torpedo’ into Alaska ferry, may have suffered fatal injuries

  • Author: Becky Bohrer, Associated Press
  • Updated: June 23, 2018
  • Published June 22, 2018

The M/V Tustumena, a 296-foot ferry of the Alaska Marine Highway System, departs Homer on Thursday evening, September 1, 2016. (Marc Lester / Anchorage Daily News)

JUNEAU — A whale struck the side of an Alaska state ferry traveling a scheduled route between Homer and Kodiak and may have suffered mortal injuries, authorities said.

The ferry sustained damage to its starboard fin stabilizer, which helps make for a more comfortable ride in rougher waters, said Aurah Landau, a spokeswoman for the Alaska transportation department.

But she said the ferry Tustumena has been cleared to operate safely by the U.S. Coast Guard. The stabilizer isn't a safety feature but a comfort feature, she said.

The ferry's captain said the whale "came at us like a torpedo from the side," Landau recounted.

Julie Speegle, a spokeswoman for the federal agency NOAA Fisheries, said passengers on the trip Wednesday reported seeing a whale breach into the side of the ferry before swimming away "abnormally" and disappearing from view.

Authorities don't know the species of the whale, but it was not a humpback, Speegle said. State and federal partner agencies that work in the area are keeping an eye out for the whale, she said.

Members of the public are also being asked to report any whale that appears to be injured or floating.

It appeared the crew acted appropriately, Speegle said.

Occasionally a whale will breach "in the wrong place at wrong time," Speegle said, adding that such cases are "quite unusual."

The Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program confirmed 12 whale deaths because of vessel strikes in Alaska between Jan. 1, 2012, and Dec. 31, 2017, according to statistics provided by NOAA Fisheries.

Half of the deaths involved humpbacks. Three involved finback whales, and one each involved sperm and bowhead whales. The species of the other whale was not identified, according to the federal agency.