NOAA closes investigation into close call between cruise ship and humpback whales

The Eurodam, a Holland America Line ship, sits in port on Monday, June 24, 2019. Video posted to Facebook last month appears to show the ship passing close to a pod of humpback whales. (Photo courtesy Anjuli Sastry)

An investigation into an incident involving an apparent near-miss between a cruise ship and a pod of whales last month has been closed, concluding the vessel did not violate federal regulations.

Julie Speegle of NOAA Fisheries confirmed that the agency’s Office of Law Enforcement determined Holland America Line’s Eurdoam altered course and slowed speed as it approached a group of humpback whales on June 24.

Under federal law, vessels must maintain a distance of at least 100 yards from humpback whales.

A video shared widely on social media after the incident shows the Eurodam cruising by the surfacing whales.

A man in the background claims to have radioed the ship twice over the course of about 15 minutes warning it about the whales, but says it didn’t slow down.

Speegle said NOAA received several complaints from the public after the video was posted.

Mark Sutherland said he shot the video and was working on the vessel Chichagof Dream at the time.

Sutherland said he didn’t file a complaint with NOAA, but he says he was surprised the investigation had been closed so quickly and disappointed the agency did not reach out to him.

“If you can show them a video of it and they’re not going to act on it, I don’t know what you could ever do to get them to take a stance,” Sutherland said. “If that’s not damning, I don’t know what is.”

He said the incident made him angry because he was working in Seward in 2016 when Holland America’s Zaandam pulled into port with a dead juvenile fin whale draped across its bow.

He also pointed out that the Holland America Line’s parent company, Carnival Corporation, recently agreed to pay an additional $20 million in fines for felony probation violations that include illegal dumping in Alaska and elsewhere.

After the Eurodam incident, Holland America Line put out a statement saying the Eurodam’s captain altered course by 10 degrees to safely pass the whales.

“Holland America Line ships sail while following a comprehensive Whale Strike Avoidance program developed in cooperation with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Marine Fisheries Service and the National Parks Service,” the statement says. 

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