Whale strikes Alaskan ferry, may have suffered mortal injury

Authorities in Alaska say a whale struck the side of a state ferry traveling a scheduled route between Homer and Kodiak, possibly sustaining mortal injuries.

State ferry suffered damage to fin stabilizer but cleared to operate by U.S. Coast Guard

The Tustumena in Kodiak, Alaska's Near Island Channel in 2013. The state ferry was recently struck by a whale while travelling a scheduled route between Homer and Kodiak. (The Associated Press)

Authorities in Alaska say a whale struck the side of a state ferry travelling a scheduled route between Homer and Kodiak, possibly sustaining mortal injuries.

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

But she said the vessel Tustumena was 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 said. 

Julie Speegle, a spokesperson 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.

An adult humpback whale breaches in Lynn Canal near Juneau, Alaska. Six humpback whales died from vessel strikes in the state between 2012 and 2017. (Michael Penn/Juneau Empire via AP)

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 [the] wrong time," Speegle said, calling such cases "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.

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