National Park Service investigating death of pregnant humpback

Posted: Sunday, August 19, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- The National Park Service is following up on tips from passengers aboard a ship that could have collided with a humpback whale last month.

The pregnant humpback whale was found floating at the mouth of Glacier Bay on July 16. A necropsy revealed the whale, an endangered species, died of massive head injuries consistent with a strike from a large vessel.

The federal agency has followed up on tips from ship passengers who said they had information about a possible collision with a whale, said Chuck Young, chief ranger at Glacier Bay National Park, 50 miles northwest of Juneau.

''We've had a few calls from people who felt they were on a vessel that may have collided with a whale,'' Young said.

Princess Cruises said one of its five ships that visit Glacier Bay encountered a pair of humpback whales in the area on July 12. The Dawn Princess observed the marine mammals near the vessel after it left the national park, the company said.

''We have made inquiries on board, and while we have no clear evidence that our ship and a whale came into contact, we cannot exclude this possibility either,'' the company said in a statement.

The Park Service believes the whale was killed within a week to 10 days of being found.

Federal law requires ships' crews to report any collisions with marine mammals within 24 hours if the incident occurs within the boundaries of a national park.

Company policy is that if ship-to-whale contact ever takes place, the encounter is to be reported immediately, Princess said.

Neither the captain of the Dawn Princess nor any other company official would be available to discuss the matter, said Denise Seomin, public relations manager for Princess.

If the Park Service determines that a crime took place, it will forward the case to the U.S. attorney's office for potential prosecution.

If a vessel struck the whale and failed to report it because the crew was unaware of what happened, the vessel's owner might still face a civil penalty.

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