July whale death in Alaska likely from collision with ferry

JUNEAU, Alaska — The death of a whale near Kodiak in July was likely due to a collision with the state ferry Kennicott, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

There were questions around the time of the incident about whether the humpback whale was already dead — a floating carcass — when the vessel struck it. But NOAA spokeswoman Julie Speegle said that doesn’t appear to be the case. She said by email Tuesday that the whale was newly dead when examined.

A necropsy determined the cause of death to be a fractured skull due to a ship strike. That vessel is believed to be the Kennicott. She said there were no findings in the report that the whale was injured before being hit.

She said further analysis is planned on the whale’s condition.

No charges will be pursued in the case, because the ship strike was unintentional and there was no evidence of a violation, Speegle said.

The incident happened July 26, when the whale was spotted on the bulbous bow of the ship below the water’s surface, a spokesman for the ferry system, Jeremy Woodrow, said last month. He said there was no unusual sound to draw attention and that the whale slid off the vessel and sank as the ferry slowed to enter the harbor. He said such collisions are rare.

On Tuesday, he said the ferry system does what it can to avoid any wildlife. “It definitely was unintentional,” he said.

NOAA recommends that all mariners reduce speed to reduce the risk of a strike, post lookouts and use extra caution in areas of low visibility or high concentrations of whales.

“That said, whales can often pop up without warning, giving mariners little time to respond,” she said.

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