The ferry M/V Wenatchee hit a whale while headed to Bainbridge Island from Seattle on Tuesday night.
The boat was about three minutes into the 8:15 p.m. westbound sailing from Seattle when a whale popped up right in front of the vessel.
“This is probably a first,” said Dana L. Warr, a Washington State Ferries spokesman.
“We have 160,000 or more sailings a year across east and west Puget Sound and there’s no recollection in the past several decades that a state ferry has ever struck a whale,” he said.
The crew of the Wenatchee did not see the whale before it was hit, but the marine mammal was sighted by passengers aboard the ferry.
The vessel was sailing into the sunset right before the whale breached about five feet in front of the bow, and the boat was going too fast to avoid a collision.
“The Wenatchee was heading into the sun. With the sunset right in the face; not much you can do at 17 to 18 mph. It literally came up right in front of the ferry about five to 10 feet out. There wasn’t anything that the captain could do,” Warr said.
While ferry crews have lookouts on board watching for marine traffic and water hazards, Warr said there had been no reports of whales in the area that day or during the time of the sailing.
“When it pops up, when it breaches at your bow, and you hadn’t seen a whale — it’s a very tough and tragic situation,” he said.
“I think that weighs on them too,” he said of the crew.
The Wenatchee did not appear to be damaged by the collision, and no one on board was injured. No witnesses immediately reported seeing the whale again after it was hit.
The ferry continued sailing on the route, and an inspection of the vessel is likely.
While reports have indicated it was a gray whale that was struck, Warr said WSF could not confirm the type of whale that was hit.
“Whether it’s a gray or humpback, we don’t know,” he said. “There was just an assumption by people that it was a gray whale. We’re are confirming it’s a whale, but not which kind.”
WSF reported the whale strike to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Coast Guard, and various marine mammal agencies. The Coast Guard is searching for the whale, officials said.
This story originally appeared in the Bainbridge Island Review, a sibling paper to the Herald.