Couple shaken as whale leaps out of water onto sail boat

A COUPLE in Cape Town, South Africa, were left shaken on Tuesday after a Southern Right Whale jumped out of the water and crashed onto their sail boat.

Paloma Werner and her partner, Ralph Mothes, both experienced sailors, were watching the 40-ton whale from a distance in Table Bay, near Cape Town harbour, when it moved toward their 10-meter vessel and breached 20 meters away.

Ms Werner told CNN she expected the whale to swim under the boat. The whale had other plans, however.

“I looked around and I saw this huge whale coming out of the water and smashing against the side of the boat,” Werner told CNN. “The whale slipped back into the water, but we just saw the mast with all its rigging and everything flying towards us, and that was scary, actually.”

Werner said Mothes ducked behind the steering wheel which bore the impact of the mast. And while the masts need replacing, Werner said the steel structure of the boat was undamaged. “Miraculously nothing happened to us,” she added.

Southern Right Whales have small eyes and poor sight and rely on hearing to avoid danger. Ms Werner believes that because her boat’s engine was off, the whale probably couldn’t hear them and took the leap not knowing they were there.

The whale didn’t appear to be hurt in the accident. The couple’s boat wasn’t so lucky. Ms. Werner estimates it will cost £8,500, (€10,073) to repair.

“I still like whales,” Ms Werner told the BBC afterwards.

“Our boat’s engine was off and so the whale just didn’t know we were there,” she said.

“We were just the wrong boat, in the wrong place, at the wrong time.”

Southern Right Whales are a common sight in Cape Town waters during the breeding season from June to November, drawing whale watchers to the region.

A tourist on a nearby boat captured the moment when the whale breached out of the water on camera.

Werner said she had spoken to a local marine mammal expert who had told her that the incident was a “freak accident.”

“It was a young southern right whale and he was just having fun. They have very poor eyesight and obviously if they’re breaching visibility is very poor. The whale did not intend to attack us, it just did not hear us.”

Whale experts have taken DNA samples from blubber left on the deck to see whether they have any existing records on the animal.

Werner said the whale appeared to be unhurt by the experience: “We saw it afterwards and there was no blood or anything. I think for a whale it was just a scratch and a bump.”

In future, the couple would make sure they had the engine on while sailing during whale season, she added.

“We were just going out sailing because it was an awesome day. Obviously, it’s a bonus if you see a whale, but we didn’t quite count on having one on top of the boat.”


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