Ship Strikes Averted
Another Harrowing Close Call
Lisa Conger tells the story of a very harrowing experience during their aerial survey flight on January 7, 2001..
"As the plane flew to the offshore area after lunch, a mother and calf right whale pair was sighted. Upon
taking a closer look, we recognized the pair as Mavynne (#1151) and her calf, already seen and reported by the
EWS team that day. However, when we looked around, we saw a large fast moving container ship headed straight for
them. The team flew by the ship to get the name and hailed it on the VHF radio. The mate responded immediately,
but it quickly became obvious that the mate's first language was not English and we had a communication problem.
The team observer tried to explain that the ship had two endangered whales immediately off its bow and advised
the mate to alter course in either direction.
"As the ship was now bearing down on the pair within a mile, the situation looked grim. Momentarily, the message
seemed to get through and observers in the plane could see the ship altering course to starboard. Immediately the
mood in the plane changed as observers began to feel relief and even exhilaration that they had actually routed
a ship around Mavynne and her calf, most likely saving their lives. As the plane banked around in a complete circle,
it's hard to describe the horror that was then felt at the sight below. Apparently, the ship's mate had decided
that he'd altered the wrong way initially and was coming hard back to port. The mother and calf pair was directly
in the ship's path again. The ship appeared to maintain its speed throughout the incident. With about one ship's
length of distance separating the whales from the huge bulbous bow, the whales disappeared below the surface. Observers
in the plane held their breath with cameras posed to document the worst. When the ship was half way over the point
where mom and calf had last been seen, observers saw fluke print upwellings just outside of the ship's wake. The
animals were kicking hard, subsurface, away from the ship! Whew!"
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