Old boat strike scars


While out on the water a few days ago we spotted a very active mother and calf off in the distance. The mother breached and soon after the calf copied its mother, repeatedly. As we got closer to all the commotion, we noticed something interesting about the mother. She had a series of long, thin, parallel scars running down a large portion of her back. As the calf tired out, it rested on its mother rostrum, giving us the chance to get some good photos of the scaring on the mother humpback’s back. Check out the pictures.

 This kind of scaring is usually indicative of a run in with a large boat propeller. As a boat runs over a whale, the propeller makes numerous clean cuts in a row. The large size and wide spacing of the scars on the whale we were watching suggested that it was a large ship, rather than a small boat, that injured this particular mother. It also seemed as though the injury happened some time ago, as the injury was completely healed and the now-mother whale appeared to have a very healthy (and active!) calf.

Whales can hold their breath for some time (the record is about 70 minutes for the humpback whales) before surfacing, sometimes unexpectedly in the case of a surprise encounter.  When resting, whales may also log (float) at the surface or just under the surface of the water. These behaviors can make them difficult for large ships to spot, sometimes leading to boat strikes. Boat strikes can seriously injure or even kill whales of all species, not just the humpbacks.

The Pacific Whale Foundation takes several precautions to avoid these sorts of run-ins. In addition to researching the conditions of these “surprise encounters,” captains run the boats at 15knots (about 17mph) or less, reduces speed within 400 yards of the animals and, of course, always observe the 100 yard limit. And just to be safe, all of the boats have propeller guards on them to prevent any major harm to a humpback if an accident were to occur.

Many of our boats have reported spotting this particular mother and calf again since we first saw her. Unfortunately we haven’t gotten any good ID photos of her fluke yet this season, but once we do, we’ll be able to see we have a record of her before she was struck by a ship. Or we can use her fluke (and her scars) to spot her next year.