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By JOHN LEE McLAUGHLIN
Daily News Staff Writer
It wasn’t the type of whale sighting that visiting Colorado sport fisher Graham MacGregor had imagined: a dead humpback wedged in the bow of a massive cruise liner.
Traveling with his brother, Pete, for a few days of deepwater angling off Prince of Wales Island, “I did not expect that,” the Fort Collins, Colorado, man said of the grisly sight.
The brothers nonetheless joined a growing band of gasping tourists and other onlookers Wednesday morning on the downtown docks of Ketchikan as federal officials and a local tug maneuvered to strip the whale carcass — a juvenile humpback at nearly 20 feet in length from snout to tale — from the bulbous bow of Princess Cruises’ Grand Princess, one of three cruise liners moored in town for the day.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which is leading an investigation into the whale’s death, and officials from Princess Cruises were not releasing details on the incident Wednesday, other than brief statements, apparently unaware of when the vessel actually struck the marine mammal whose bodies can span upwards of 50 feet and weigh some 40 tons.
“It is unknown how or when this happened as the ship felt no impact,” Princess Cruises Spokesman Brian O’Connor wrote in a statement. “It is also unknown, at this time, whether the whale was alive or already deceased before becoming lodged on the bow. No whales were sighted in close proximity to the ship, by the bridge navigation team, as it sailed towards Ketchikan overnight.”
O’Connor said in the statement that the Santa Clarita, California,-based Princess Cruises maintains a “comprehensive whale avoidance program,” and takes “very seriously” the responsibility of being good stewards to marine life.
“Our ships have clear guidelines on how to operate if whales are sighted nearby, which include altering course and reducing speed as required,” he wrote, also noting that the ship would leave Ketchikan on schedule for its next scheduled stop at Juneau, before sailing to Skagway.
Originally departing on Aug. 6 from San Francisco for a 10-day roundtrip cruise, the Grand Princess came to port at about 6:30 a.m. Wednesday at Ketchikan’s Berth 2.
Some four hours later, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration officials and an Amak Towing tug, the Ethan B., dislodged the whale and began towing its carcass to an undisclosed site for a later necropsy, used to determine the cause of death.
Two passengers of the Grand Princess, Allen Hunt and his daughter, Chloe, both of Redding, California, said the last time they spotted whales during their trip was near San Francisco Bay.
Eager for a sighting in Alaska, seeing the dead humpback in Ketchikan no doubt came as an unpleasant surprise. Both said they weren’t made aware of the whale strike, until they chanced upon the crowd watching it being removed.
“They didn’t even tell us,” Chloe Hunt said.