National Marine Fisheries Service

06/29/2020 | News release | Distributed by Public on 06/29/2020 17:34

Family Members Injured When Vessel Collides With Whale Near Juneau, Alaska

NOAA Fisheries Alaska Marine Mammal Stranding Hotline received a report Saturday, June 27 that a recreational boat traveling on the west side of Coghlan Island collided with a humpback whale, just outside Auke Bay, north of Juneau, Alaska. The U.S. Coast Guard relayed information that the family in the vessel immediately returned to shore and some members were transported to Bartlett Regional Hospital with serious injuries.

The USCG announced a mariner notice. NOAA Fisheries has not received any reports of an injured or dead whale in that area since the collision.

Humpback Whales Prevalent Throughout Southeast Alaska

Humpback whales are common throughout southeast Alaska, especially near Juneau. During a normal summer, whale watching vessels in the Juneau area can serve as an extra reminder to passing vessels that whales are in the area. Those reminders to slow down and look for whales are much less prevalent this summer with reduced tourism.

Whales can surface anytime and may not be aware of boat locations. Please slow down if you are in an area where whales may be present. If you see evidence of one whale in the area, there are likely more whales nearby.

Vessels strike whales every year in Alaska, which poses a potential risk to both whales and boaters. NOAA Fisheries has several programs and outreach efforts aimed at reducing these risks, including a voluntary education and recognition program for whale watching operators calledWhale SENSE, and outreach efforts directed towards all user groups for increased awareness of safe and responsible boating practices around whales.

Give Whales Bubble Room

In Alaska, humpback whales are protected by federal regulations that prohibit approaches within 100 yards and require operating at a slow, safe speed when near humpback whales. It is important that boaters follow regional regulations and viewing best practices for the safety of humpback whales and boaters themselves. By understanding how to give whales personal 'bubble' space, boaters can ensure that they are also giving whales room to feed, rest, and care for their calves.

Follow these tips to give whales personal 'bubble' space:

  • Don't let your vessel's presence bubble over: Limit your viewing time to 30 minutes
  • A whale could pop up at any time: Use a wide berth in areas that you see whale watching vessels idling or traveling slowly
  • Don't be in your own bubble: Use VHF radio to coordinate with other boaters to reduce crowding and to avoid ship strike
  • Reduce your spray: Go slow when approaching or departing whales
  • Expand your bubble: Give more space when watching groups or mother-calf pairs

If you see a stranded, injured, entangled, or dead marine mammal, call the NOAA Fisheries Alaska Statewide 24-hour Stranding Hotline at 877-925-7773