Necropsy planned for humpback hit by cruise ship

A humpback whale is seen lodged on the front of the Grand Princess Wednesday in Ketchikan. (KRBD photo by Leila Kheiry)

A Princess Cruise Lines ship traveling through Southeast Alaska’s Inside Passage hit a humpback whale that became lodged on the front bulbous bow.

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The whale was removed after the Grand Princess docked in downtown Ketchikan Wednesday morning, and the dead animal was towed to a nearby beach.

In a statement released Wednesday, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Office of Law Enforcement said its officers are investigating the cause of the whale’s death.

Gary Freitag of the Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program said he will be involved in the necropsy, to determine how it died. He said it’s possible that the whale already was dead before it was struck by the ship.

“So, you really don’t know whether the ship had anything to with it or not,” Freitag said. “The necropsy will have a tendency to determine, the best we can, whether it was hit while it was still alive or whether it was dead, floating. You can also look at the decomposition and see how long it was before the animal was hit. Whether it was right away or whether it was floating around for a week.”

Freitag said he hadn’t yet seen the dead whale himself, but he was told it was about 30-feet-long, which means it was a calf.

“Humpbacks are usually 40- to 50-foot when they’re adults,” Freitag said. “So, it’s a young humpback, from what I understand.”

Freitag said he’s working with NOAA officials to schedule the necropsy, which likely will take place Thursday. He said there are a lot of logistics to work out first, including rounding up volunteers to help.

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