Oregon Coast Experts: Why Whale Body Slammed Vessel
(Astoria, Oregon) – What made a whale jump out of the water this last week and then land on a sailing ship?
It's a curiosity of a whale tale that hit the news last week, and it’s had many scratching their heads about why a whale would do this.
On May 12, the crew of the sailing vessel L'Orca began a race to Vancouver, B.C. about 9 a.m. A half later, the ship was body slammed by what crew members described as a 30-foot Humpback whale.
It was random and startling, but luckily no one was hurt. The vessel did sustain some damage, and the whale left behind chunks of its flesh in the incident.
Why would it do this?
Carrie Newell, a whale expert and owner of the charter cruise Whale Research EcoExcursions – out of Depoe Bay – said her guess was that the whale was a juvenile and didn’t know any better.
"I would assume that because it's a juvenile it doesn’t know as much, and it got a little close, and because it didn’t know a lot it jumped on the boat,” Newell said.
Scott Baker, Associate Director of OSU’s Marine Mammal Institute at the Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, said it’s likely the creature was startled.
“The seas were fairly choppy, as I understand it,” he said. “This would’ve made it noisy for the whale, and its ability to localize sound would’ve been limited.”
So it’s likely the whale couldn't hear the boat, Baker said. Because of this, it was startled, and likely leapt out of the water to disastrous results.
“Breaching can be a reaction to being startled,” he said. “It looks like the boat didn’t see the whale, and the whale didn’t see the boat.”
There has been some documentation of previous whale breaches that involved landing on ships. Another happened in Hawaii a few years back, Baker said, and it too was a Humpback.
“Humpbacks tend to be the most aerial,” he said.
There seem to be a few more incidents of this happening with Humpbacks than other whales.
The Marine Mammal Institute in Newport has been given a chunk of the skin from the L’Orca crew for genetic testing, as they’re not 100 percent positive it was a Humpback as yet.
Baker said if it was a juvenile it would tend to get startled more easily, fitting in with Newell’s explanation.
Photo courtesy Seaside Aquarium: part of a Humpback whale lands on the north Oregon coast in January.
Depoe Bay, where many whale watch charter boats run
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