July 15, 2024

Police say whale breaching may have caused boat to flip and throw two occupants into the water off Sydney.

One man died and another was hospitalised in Australia after a whale hit and flipped their small boat during a fishing trip, authorities said.

The two men were thrown from the boat when it was hit at about 6am local time on Saturday (20:00 GMT on Friday) in the waters off La Perouse, about 14km (nine miles) southeast of Sydney.

People on a second boat raised the alarm after spotting a 4.8-metre vessel unoccupied in the water, police said.

The 53-year-old skipper was pulled from the water nearby, treated by paramedics and taken to hospital, where he was in a stable condition, according to authorities. A second man, aged 61, was unconscious and died at the scene.

The boat “was likely to have struck or been impacted by a whale breaching, causing the boat to tilt, ejecting both men”, police said in a statement.

Water Police Acting Superintendent Siobhan Munro described the collision as a “tragic accident” and told how the skipper of the boat had tried to hold his companion “as close as he could” in an effort to save him.

According to Australia’s ABC national broadcaster, Munro said the men could have been in the water for 45 minutes before they were rescued.

Though Australia has an extensive coastline and its waters host 10 large and 20 smaller species of whales, human deaths caused by whales are rare.

Humpback and southern right whales travel north to warmer breeding grounds during Australia’s winter months, returning southwards between September and November.

“Right now there are lots of whales out there and there are lots of examples of whales breaching next to boats,” Munro said.

New South Wales Maritime executive director Mark Hutchings said that people on the water needed to stay 100 metres away from an adult whale, and 300 metres if the whale is accompanying a calf.

“Whales aren’t there to harm anyone, but those interactions can happen,” Hutchings told the ABC.

The accident comes less than two weeks after a four-metre humpback whale was struck in the head by a boat propeller off the coast of Western Australia.

In June, eight Danish people were rescued when their sailboat capsized in the Pacific Ocean after a collision with one or two whales.

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