The accident, which occurred in an area known to be frequented by a large number of tourist boats and by whales, caused a stir in the media. Articles show differences in their interpretation of certain facts, which is evident simply by reading their titles. Whales On Line tried to learn more, which wasn’t easy given the scarcity of official information. It should be remembered that caution should be exercised when operating boats in waters heavily travelled by these giants.

This collision between a whale and a watercraft occurred on March 12, 2015 in Santa Maria Bay, near Cabo San Lucas, a Mexican resort located at the southern tip of the Baja California peninsula. The accident seems to be the first in the world to cause a human fatality. Even if a small number of precedents of this type have occurred in the past, they have only ever resulted in injuries, both in this region heavily visited by tourists and whale-watching enthusiasts and in other parts of the world.

Numerous media outlets from several countries covered the news on the day of and the day after the incident. In their articles, discrepancies were noted in certain facts that they were trying to convey, notably with regard to the species of whale involved. Some headlines read that a whale had breached or landed on the boat.

Cabo Adventures, the company that owned the boat, did not issue a press release describing the course of events. It did however express its condolences to the victim’s family and its wishes for a prompt recovery for the two injured individuals. The company director replied to journalists by stating that it was the first time that one of its boats collided with a whale and that nobody had ever been injured on board any of its craft. For the collision last March 12, he reports that the captain saw the whale surface in front of the ship’s bow. He is believed to have attempted to avoid the animal by changing direction. The whale is said to have breached and its tail struck the head of the Canadian tourist, causing her to fall overboard. She was pulled out of the water by the crew but could not be revived. It was this blow to the head that resulted in her death.

What seems to be established and commentary

The seven-metre long inflatable boat carrying aboard nine tourists was returning to port after a diving excursion which had nothing to do with a whale-watching outing. One nautical mile from the coast, the boat struck a humpback whale – and not a gray whale. The accident resulted in the death of a 35-year-old Canadian woman and injured two other individuals, who had to be hospitalized.

Richard Sears, marine biologist and founder of the Mingan Island Cetacean Study (MICS) in Quebec, is very familiar with the Baja California region, which is frequented by various species of great whales. He has been conducting research in this area for many years on North Pacific blue whales. He responded to Whales On Line, which was seeking to gather validated information on the accident. According to individuals whom he had contacted on the premises, he confirms that the whale in question was a humpback. “What’s important to remember”, he comments, “is that in general it’s not the whales that collide with boats, but rather the other way around. The boats are often too close or moving too fast. You always have to be careful whenever there’s a chance of encountering a whale.”

Caution and vigilance

Whales spot obstacles in their environment in order to navigate and get their bearings. The animals are therefore every bit as equipped to detect boats and avoid obstacles that lie in their course. However, it should be remembered that caution is the watchword with these titans which can measure 10 to 30 metres long and weigh several tens of tonnes. In any waters known to be frequented by whales, speed limits are implemented or recommended to navigators, and enhanced visual surveillance is a must.

Boats are requested to maintain their distances from the whales and avoid their trajectories. These precautions provide humans – and whales – more time space to react and avoid strikes. Both Man and beast can err in their vigilance, their detection abilities or the precision of their movements.

Sources

On the Radio Canada website:

Une Calgarienne morte au Mexique après une collision avec une baleine

On the CTV website:

Calgary woman killed by surfacing whale off coast of Mexico

On the City News Toronto website:

Canadian woman, 35, killed when whale lands on tourist boat in Mexico

News - 30/3/2015

Christine Gilliet

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