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Sailboat struck by breaching whale

July 21, 2010 | 12:12 pm

A southern right whale breached and landed on a sailboat off the coast of Cape Town, South Africa on Sunday. The whale broke the mast and then swam away, but the boat's occupants were uninjured. The incident is being investigated to determine if the whale was harassed.

A couple sailing off the coast of Cape Town, South Africa, on Sunday got the surprise of their lives but were uninjured when a breaching southern right whale crashed onto their sailboat, damaging the vessel.

"It was quite scary," Paloma Werner, who had been out sailing with her boyfriend and business partner, Ralph Mothes of the Cape Town Sailing Academy, told Independent Online.

"We thought the whale was going to go under the boat and come up on the other side. We thought it would see us."

Mothes said his 32-foot steel boat held up well, sustaining no structural damage other than a broken mast, despite the massive bulk of the leviathan.

However, officials from the local Department of Environmental Affairs have launched an investigation into the incident after several people came forward to say the boaters had broken the law by approaching the whale and that the 33-foot, 40-ton mammal was provoked into the attack.

Werner and Mothes contend that the mammal had no idea they were there because the boat's engine was turned off.

Meredith Thornton, scientist and manager of the Mammal Research Institute at the University of Pretoria, said that "whales don't see much by way of their eyes but by sound in the water," seemingly lending credence to the couple's statement.

Given its poor eyesight, Thornton said, the whale probably didn't know the boat was in its way.

Experts believe the whale suffered no more than bruises, though it did leave behind bits of blubber and skin.

-- Kelly Burgess
twitter.com/latimesoutposts

Photo: A southern right whale breached and landed on a sailboat off the coast of Cape Town, South Africa on Sunday. The whale broke the mast and then swam away, but the boat's occupants were uninjured. The incident is being investigated to determine if the whale was harassed. Credit: European Pressphoto Agency

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