Collision With A Gray Whale Eliminates Yacht From Sailing Race

My work day today started with an email directing me to an article about a sailboat colliding with a whale in the San Francisco Bay. Ironic, given that tomorrow I am boarding a plane en route to a sailing symposium to talk about just that – safe boating for sailors and whales.

Together with our partners from Audubon Society of Rhode Island and New Bedford Whaling Museum, WDC runs an outreach program called Sharing the Seas, which aims to empower sailors to utilize safe boating techniques to reduce disturbances and injury to whales, their crews, and their vessels.

I was relieved to read that in this instance the two crew members on board were not hurt, although the J/105 they were sailing sustained a fair amount of damage (including a dislodged rudder and partial steerage loss on the 35’ boat) which required them to be rescued by the local yacht club’s dockmaster and brought back to port. While they didn’t see any blood in the water from the whale, they couldn’t be certain that the whale was uninjured.

damaged j105 being towed
damaged j105 being towed

What stuck with me most about this incident is that the article states the sailors did not report the incident to the Coast Guard. There are many reasons why this is an important and pertinent action to take.  The Coast Guard would have responded to ensure the safety of the two sailors on board and secure the disabled boat. The Coast Guard could have contacted the local marine mammal response network to try to relocate the gray whale involved in the collision and assess the whale's condition. When we have consistent reporting, it helps improve the accuracy of databases that log cases like these, which then feed into a number of different efforts to ensure both human and whale safety at sea.

I’m sure there are  any number of reasons why boaters, including these sailors, don’t call the Coast Guard to report marine mammal strikes. We are hoping to discover some of those reasons, and in turn, ease any concerns people may have about reporting. WDC is currently  applying for funding that will allow us to carry out a standardized survey of boaters, helping us to understand why they may or may not want to report incidents like this to the Coast Guard.

In the meantime, if you or someone you know is a boater, please send us a message and let us know your thoughts…is there anything that would prevent you from calling the Coast Guard in this scenario? Would you know that that’s what you’re supposed to do?