A representative from Washington State Ferries said the accident was unintentional and the crew was "saddened" about the collision with the whale

By Joelle Goldstein
May 31, 2019 06:53 PM
Mike McDonald

A ferry traveling in the Seattle, Washington area this week collided with and potentially killed a juvenile humpback whale, though its body has not yet been found.

On Tuesday, a Washington State Ferry named Wenatchee had departed from Seattle at 8:15 p.m. local time and was on its way to Bainbridge Island, a representative from Washington State Ferries tells PEOPLE.

Just three minutes into the trip, as the boat was going 17 miles per hour, the WSF rep said the ferry was unable to stop in time and “struck a marine mammal, presumably a whale that reportedly surfaced about five feet in front of the bow in Elliott Bay.”

The whale then floated downward with what appeared to be a fatal wound, while passengers who witnessed the strike and the sea animal “spouting blood” went to report the incident to the crew, according to KIRO 7.

The WSF rep explained to PEOPLE that the accident was unintentional and the crew was “saddened” about the whale, who was confirmed to be a juvenile Humpback that likely suffered fatal injuries by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

“There had been no previous reports of whales spotted in Elliott Bay earlier that day,” the WSF rep says. “The crew was unaware of the whale that surfaced directly in front of the moving ferry and are saddened by the situation.”

Even if they were aware, WSF’s Director of Marine Operations Gregory Faust Faust noted to reporters that it would have been nearly impossible for the ferry to avoid the whale, considering the speed at which the vessel was traveling and the depth of the waters.

“It takes a little over a minute to go from full ahead to a full stop in the water,” Faust said, per NBC News. “And at 5 to 10 feet, there’s no chance to even try to maneuver the vessel.”

Still, that didn’t make the trauma of the incident any less difficult. “I feel terrible. The crew’s the one that feels terrible, they know after the fact what happened, so they’re extremely remorseful and feel horrible about the situation,” Faust said.

After the incident, the WSF rep noted that the vessel crew “reported the incident to the U.S. Coast Guard, NOAA, and various marine mammal agencies.”

“The whale has not been spotted since the Coast Guard sighted it that night around Pier 66 along the Seattle waterfront,” the rep shares. “Ferry crews continue to look out for the whale as they move passengers across Puget Sound, however, NOAA is working with other state agencies to use available resources to search for the whale.”

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On Wednesday afternoon, NOAA issued a statement to KIRO 7 and said the West Coast Marine Mammal Stranding Network had been notified and would be on the lookout for an injured or dead whale in the Seattle area.

Though there were no reported injuries or damage to the boat, an investigation is currently underway by the Ferries System, according to NBC News.

Since 2000, there have only been 23 recorded ship strikes involving whales in Washington — two of which involved humpback whales, the outlet reported.

The rarity of the incident was also echoed by Faust. “It’s such an odd occurrence that that whale would decide to breach right in front of a ferry,” he said. “It’s just a million in one shot.”

Reps at NOAA did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment.