The body of a dead humpback whale was tied to a buoy near the oil terminal in Valdez Harbor Tuesday night after it was struck by an oil tanker on Monday.
Federal officials are still not sure exactly what happened, but environmentalists are concerned about the loss of an endangered giant of the sea.
In the more than 30 years that oil tankers have been coming to Valdez – and during more than 20,000 tanker visits to the oil terminal – people say they’ve never seen this happen before.
“It was struck by an oil tanker and carried into Valdez,” said Sheila McLean, a public information specialist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
It happened as the tanker Kodiak was pulling into port. As escort vessels were guiding the ship to the dock, crewmen on a line boat spotted the body of a dead whale at the tanker’s bow.
The whale is now off the bow of the ship, but it’s still in Valdez," McLean said.
“We do know that the whale was struck by the ship, but we don’t know the condition of the whale when it was struck.”
Officials aren’t sure if the whale was alive or dead when it was struck by the ship. The National Marine Fisheries Service was called in to investigate.
Federal officials believe the whale is an endangered adult humpback.
Long-time environmentalist and protector of Prince William Sound Stan Stephens says he can’t remember this happening before.
“It’s very unusual because usually the noise from a tanker or the tugs or other traffic around them will keep them from getting hit,” he said.
But he says humpbacks often come to the surface and go into a sleep-like state, and he wouldn’t be surprised if the crew of the tanker didn’t see it.
“It’s really sorry to see the loss of a humpback because they are very precious, dear animals,” Stephens said. “It’s too bad that this has occurred, but again I can see how it can happen.”
A spokesman for SeaRiver Maritime, the Texas-based owner of the tanker, says there’s no evidence the ship actually struck the whale and dragged it into the harbor.
But federal officials say they have no doubt that this giant of the sea and a giant oil tanker had a sad encounter.
Federal officials say it would be too expensive to send a team to determine exactly how and when the whale died. They are planning to tow the body of the whale out to sea and sink it.
[Source: Michael Hughes “Today’s News”]