Update: Princess Cruise Ship Impales a Whale

July 28, 2009
Princess Cruises Sapphire Princess Update, 11:30 a.m. EDT: The Vancouver Sun reports today that the dead fin whale discovered on the bow of Sapphire Princess this weekend may have been sick. A necropsy (post-mortem examination) reveals that the whale had no food in its stomach. A thin, rather than thick, layer of blubber is another sign that it may have been in poor health.

The whale's body will be returned into the ecosystem by barge.

(July 26, 3:57 p.m. EDT) -- When Princess Cruises' Sapphire Princess docked in Vancouver Saturday morning, the crew discovered a sad sight: A dead fin whale was caught in the ship's bow. The 116,000-ton, 2,670-passenger ship was sailing a seven-night Alaska itinerary between Whittier and Vancouver.

According to reports by the Vancouver Sun and other news sources, the whale was a 70-ton fin whale, likely middle-aged, part of a threatened species as listed in the Species at Risk Act. Fin whales do not typically inhabit the waters around Vancouver, so the cruise ship likely struck the whale north of Vancouver Island. Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans will perform a necropsy to determine whether the whale was alive or already dead when it and the cruise ship made contact. The whale carcass will then be returned to the ocean floor.

Princess said in a statement, "We were shocked and saddened by this discovery, and sincerely regret the circumstances which led to the whale's death. It is unknown how or when this could have happened, as we have strict whale avoidance procedures in place when our ships are in the vicinity of marine life. We are not aware that any whales were sighted as the ship sailed through the Inside Passage to Vancouver yesterday."

On a recent Holland America cruise in Alaska, we asked the captain about whale avoidance procedures. He told us that the large mammals are actually too small to show up on radar. Instead, cruise ships must rely on actual whale sightings and reports from other ships to determine if whales are in the area. When whale activity is present or likely, cruise ships typically reduce speed or alter course if necessary. Princess concurs, stating that the line has "clear guidelines for our ships on how to operate if whales are sighted nearby."

The last time a cruise ship arrived in Vancouver with a whale caught in its bow was in 1999, when Celebrity Cruises' Celebrity Galaxy collided with a fin whale.

--by Erica Silverstein, Senior Editor