Featured Image Credit: King 5 News
The passengers and crew aboard the San Juan Clipper, a whale watching tour boat hosted by Clipper Vacations, were out to see some amazing sea creatures last weekend. But they witnessed a pretty different kind of whale interaction near Whidbey Island in Seattle, Washington.
The watchers had already seen the group of three gray whales nearby, when a smaller boat came speeding up— and practically ran over one of the surfacing whales.
Onlookers were shocked, voices in the video clearly saying “oh my god” and “why would he do that?”
The whale that they hit seemed to be a gray whale that is known to the area; one nicknamed “Patch”, first photographed in Puget Sound in the 1990s.
Stephanie Raymond, a naturalist who works on the San Juan Clipper, had been speaking to two hundred people when the incident occurred, told King 5 her reaction was similar to the guests’ who caught it on camera, despite having been a part of whale watching tours for decades. “Did I just see that happen? I’ve never seen this happen before. I’ve never seen a boat strike a whale.”
The good news? Is that the driver was tracked down, and they’re cooperating with the investigation.
The bad news? Whales are a little harder to track down, after something like this happens. Raymond recalled that the whales’ behaviors were a little bit different after the strike, “diving more frequently, moving a little faster, showing their tails each time”, as well as changing the course that they had originally been on, each a sign of disturbance.
Thankfully, Martin Haulena, head veterinarian of the Vancouver Aquarium told CTV that wildlife officials have tracked the gray whale in question since the collision and assessed its injuries. He reported that there seemed to be a “large area of swelling behind the head, so that’s obviously a sign of traumatic injury.”
The one big takeaway from this event is a reminder to slow down and watch out, while you’re in whale territory.
While a boater might have no problem turning, it’s normally a case that they aren’t watching for the gentle giants who might be right underneath them. And the whales, while used to humans and boats, “when someone comes in at a speed like that, and they’re big, 40-foot animals, it’s hard for them to get out of the way,” Captain Jason Mihok of the San Juan Clipper reminded.
Boats in the United States are normally asked to stay about 100 meters away from whales, so for both their sakes and yours, please exercise caution whenever possible.