Update: Cruise Ship Collides With Whale in Alaska

July 29, 2010

Update, 10:20 a.m. EDT: A Princess spokeswoman tells us via a prepared statement this morning that "We were surprised and concerned by [the discovery of the whale on the bow], as the ship felt no impact. It is unknown how or when this could have happened, as we were not aware that any whales were sighted in close proximity to the ship when the whale was discovered.

"We take our responsibility to be good stewards of the marine environment very seriously, and have clear guidelines for our ships on how to operate if whales are sighted nearby, which include altering course and reducing speed as required."

The cruise line says it is fully cooperating with the investigation into this incident. The ship arrived in Juneau at 4:30 p.m. yesterday, two and a half hours late, due to the incident.

(8:05 a.m. EDT) -- A cruise ship in Alaska is in the spotlight for picking up an unwilling passenger: a whale. According to the Anchorage Daily News, federal authorities are investigating the cause of death of a whale found stuck on the bulbous bow of Sapphire Princess yesterday morning near Juneau.

The news report says that the whale, which appears to be a juvenile humpback, was discovered at about 8 a.m. while the ship was south of the Alaskan capital city, near Tracy Arm. Princess crew contacted the Coast Guard; officials from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Fisheries Service responded to the call, dispatching a tugboat crew to dislodge the carcass.

The whale's been transported to an undisclosed location for a necropsy (postmortem examination); at 3 p.m., the ship was cleared to continue sailing toward Juneau. The report further says that NOAA officials plan to interview the ship's crew members about the incident.

A spokesperson for the West Coast-based line was not immediately available for comment at press time.

Though it's rare for whales to become impaled by cruise ships, it has happened. Last summer -- almost a year ago to date -- crewmembers aboard this same vessel discovered an endangered fin whale caught in the ship's bow. A necropsy in that case revealed that the whale was already dead when it and the ship made contact, according to a Princess spokeswoman.

Ship captains have told Cruise Critic that 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.

Stay tuned.

Join the conversation.

--by Melissa Paloti, Managing Editor

Fan Cruise Critic on Facebook!

Follow Cruise Critic on Twitter!