State and federal officials conducted the examination of the 25-ton humpback whale on Puffin Island in Kodiak in July after it was killed by what is now believed to be a collission with the ferry Kennicott. Photo courtesy Kate Wynn
Federal authorities believe the death of a whale near Kodiak in July was likely due to a collision with the state ferry Kennicott.
There were questions around the time of the incident about whether the animal was already dead when the ship struck it. Julie Speegle, a spokeswoman with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said that doesn’t appear to be the case. She says the whale was freshly dead when examined.
A necropsy found the cause of death to be a fractured skull due to a ship strike.
She says there were no findings in the report that the animal was injured before the collision.
Speegle says charges will not be pursued in the case, because the ship strike was unintentional and there was no evidence of a violation.
Last week KMXT told you about a collision between a humpback whale and the state ferry Kennicott. The incident sent a team of scientists to Kodiak to perform a necropsy – a full body, internal examination of the carcass.
Veterinarians determined the mammal died from a massive trauma and had injuries similar to those of whales that have been killed by ship-strikes. However, whether or not it was the Kennicott collision that actually did the killing is still under investigation by NOAA law enforcement. There is a possibility that the whale was killed by something else and the ferry collided with the floating body.
Still, University of Alaska Marine Mammal Specialist Kate Wynne said whale and boat collisions are an interesting conservation problem worldwide. While rare in small ports like Kodiak, she said places with larger, high-traffic shipping lanes are more prone to these incidents, and research is being done to help prevent them.
“In other areas, we have collected enough information on how big of a ship, how fast was it going, how big an animal, where did it hit on the animal, to start determining how fast is safe. Is there a safe speed for shipping lanes, for instance.”
Even in larger shipping areas, Wynne said whale and ship collisions are few and far between, which makes researching them a slow, difficult process. She said they are just now getting enough data worldwide to understand ship strikes and are still learning about the distribution of whales and where the mammals travel. Continue reading
The necropsy crew poses in front of the beached humpback whale on Puffin Island earlier this week. Back row, from left to right: Nia Pristas, Glenn McKenney, Nesie Smith, Julie Matweyou and Dana Wright of the Kodiak Seafood and Marine Science Center, Brent Pristas and Joe Sekerak from NOAA and Lei Guo from the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Front row: Kit and Kate Savage from NOAA, Chief Pathologist Frances Gulland, Marine Mammal Specialist Kate Wynne and Veterinarian Kathy Dot.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration law enforcement officials are currently investigating a collision between the state ferry Kennicott and a humpback whale near Kodiak. The incident was first reported on Saturday and brought a multi-agency team of scientists to the island to help determine whether or not the collision caused the death of the 30-foot-long, subadult humpback whale.
Kate Wynne is a marine mammal specialist for the University of Alaska Sea Grant Program and spent all of Wednesday cutting open the 25-ton humpback whale, which is currently beached on Puffin Island, just beyond Kodiak harbor’s breakwater.
“This animal definitely died from a massive trauma. It got hit. It got t-boned basically in a characteristic way that ship strikes have been evidenced before. So, broken ribs, broken spine, skull fracture – that sort of thing. The determination of how that happened is out of my realm and it’s in the investigation mode still.” Continue reading
The Alaska State Ferry Kennicott, which was supposed to dock in Kodiak this morning at 7 a.m. was delayed due to the severe weather and high winds.
Ferry System spokesman Jeremy Woodrow said the Kennicott’s skipper was advised by the Kodiak Harbor Master’s Office to hold off docking until the wind died down.
The 382-foot vessel reversed course and sailed a holding pattern beyond the reefs in Chiniak Bay until about 11, when it sailed back in and docked just before noon.
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There is another delay with work on the State ferry Tustumena, but according to the Alaska Marine Highway office, it shouldn’t prevent the 50-year-old ship from returning to service on October 20th, as previously announced. The re-launching of the Tusty in Seward was tentatively scheduled for today (Friday).
In an e-mail this morning, ferry system spokesman Jeremy Woodrow said work continues to be done replacing undersized steel plating in the ship, and a few more welds have failed the latest round of testing. The new launch date has been moved to the middle of next week, with sea trials and other in-water work to follow. Woodrow said the return to service date shouldn’t be affected by this latest delay.
As we previously reported, the ferry Kennicott’s schedule has been revised, and it will serve Kodiak, Homer and Seldovia through October 17th.
However, the Kennicott must report for a Coast Guard-ordered mandatory annual overhaul in Ketchikan after that date.
As we wait for the state ferry Tustumena to return to service, the Alaska Marine Highway System has announced a change to the ferry Kennicott’s September and October schedule. The system has added additional sailings between Kodiak and the Kenai Peninsula communities of Seldovia and Homer through October 17th. However there remains only one sailing to Unalaska with calls at what few communities on the Alaska Peninsula can accommodate the larger Kennicott. They have not seen ferry service since May.
Meanwhile, the Tustumena is scheduled to go back into the water on Friday (Sept. 20) of this week, after steel plating used in repairs was found to be too thin to pass Coast Guard inspections.
“Recent inspection by the U.S. Coast Guard, they found that there was some steel that was a little too thin for their standards and they required that that be replaced and redone on a couple different areas of the ship. The shipyard right now is working on doing that,” said ferry system spokesman Jeremy Woodrow. “It’s pushed the Tustumena back another couple weeks. We’re looking at having it in service mid October.”
Woodrow said the thin steel was used in watertight compartments in the ship’s hull. He said Seward Ships Drydock had the correct gauge steel in stock, and is using that now, but he’s not sure why it wasn’t used in the first place. It’s not the first time sub-par material has been found in repairs to the ship.
Even if the Tustumena goes back in the water on its latest scheduled date, Woodrow says there will still be work that needs to be done.
“It’s going to take two- to three-weeks of doing additional tests and work while its in the water as well, and so we’re looking at returning to service about mid October.
This is just the latest delay for the Tustumena, which has been in dry dock for various maintenance and repairs since last October. The ferry was originally scheduled to return to service in April. But faulty materials and shoddy workmanship have caused it to fail inspection after inspection by the Coast Guard.
“You know it has been a difficult time for the department. But we’re really focusing on making sure that we do get the ship back into service, and that when it does return to service it’ll be in the type of shape to be able to serve the communities of Southwest Alaska, Southcentral Alaska, for many more years before we can get the replacement of the Tustumena back on line. Or, in line.”
You can find the latest ferry schedules online here.