RYE, N.H. (AP) – Tourists on whale-watching boats watched in horror as a speedboat struck a 60-foot-long finback this weekend about 20 miles off Rye Harbor.
Jen Kennedy, a passenger on one boat, said the whale surfaced nine times before it was hit, each time spouting 20 feet into the air.
“The fact that he didn’t see any of this blows my mind,” she said of the speedboat driver. “It (the whale) was almost the size of our boat. They’re lucky they didn’t get hurt.”
The whale – like others in the area, known individually to experts – suffered a deep gash in its side, but did not appear to be seriously hurt, according to an investigator from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
“Whale experts said the injuries didn’t seem severe,” said Michael Henry, a special agent with the agency. “They know who the whale is.”
Finbacks are a federally protected endangered species, and the boat driver could be charged under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Henry said charges would require proof the act was intentional or neglectful. Violations are punishable by up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $25,000.
Henry said some whales have names, though this one only has a number. “This one hasn’t been sighted again,” he said Wednesday.
Officials say the driver of the 24-foot-boat did not stop, but whale-watchers snapped detailed pictures of him and his boat. Officials talked to him Tuesday and were continuing their investigation.
Henry said whale strikes are rare.
“Typically, boaters are well aware of whales and try to avoid them,” he said.
Kennedy works for the Blue Ocean Society for Marine Conservation, a small Portsmouth-based nonprofit. She was one of about 60 passengers on the Atlantic Queen, which had followed the whale and another finback for about an hour before the incident.
She said she has seen many boats come close to whales without hitting them.
“Usually, they’ll see the whale spout and put on the brakes really fast and try to divert it, but (this boat) just kept going,” she said.
“The passengers were very mad and started yelling at the boat,” which she estimated was going 25 mph.
The Coast Guard and New Hampshire Marine Patrol arrived soon afterward, but could not find the whale or speedboat. Coast Guard Petty Officer Karinne Spethman said the boat driver later contacted authorities to report he had struck a whale. His name was not immediately released.
On the Net:
Blue Ocean Society: http://www.blueoceansociety.org/finstrike.htm