July 25, 2001
A pregnant, humpback whale found dead last week in Alaska's Glacier Bay is thought to have been killed in a collision with a large vessel -- most likely, according to sources at the National Parks Conservation Association, a cruise ship. The huge whale, whose length exceeds 40 ft., was found with a blunt trauma to the head, a fracture and crush that's on the skull. Her skull was massively fractured and her neck was partially severed. Marine biologists who have examined the whale, dubbed "#68" by conservation groups who have been observing her in these waters for 21 years, say she died instantly. In the meantime, accusations are already flying. While Chip Dennerlein, Alaska regional director for the National Parks Conservation Association, says it's possible that a freighter might have been in the area, the fact that Glacier Bay sees far more cruise ships (two per day) suggests the possibility that the collision with the humpback whale, an endangered species, was most likely caused by a large cruise ship. "The mass of weight to have caused that kind of crush on the skull," he says, "means that nobody disputes it was a [big] ship." No cruise captains have filed reports of a collision in Glacier Bay but an investigation has begun. Led by the National Park Service, it will consist of interviews with all captains -- cruise ships, of course, but freighters, too -- whose ships have plied the water Glacier Bay. If found culpable, civil penalties -- i.e. fines -- could be severe. Ironically, this accident occurred at the same time that an Alaskan senator is trying to pass an amendment that would allow an increased number of cruise ships to visit Glacier Bay -- without any additional environmental requirements.