Cruise ship arrives in New York with whale attached to bow

A right whale with scarring along its back from a boat propeller.
A right whale with scarring along its back from a boat propeller.
A right whale with scarring along its back from a boat propeller.

Federal authorities are trying to determine how an endangered Sei whale ended up impaled by a cruise ship that reached New York City with the dead mammal still attached to its bow.

The 44-foot mature female whale was found attached to the bow of MSC Meraviglia as it arrived in the Port of Brooklyn on May 4. The deceased whale later was towed to shore in Sandy Hook, N.J., for a necropsy, the Atlantic Marine Conservation Society said in an online statement.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Office of Law Enforcement is investigating. MSC Cruises confirmed in a statement that the whale was discovered on the ship’s bow as it approached the Port of New York.

“We have comprehensive measures in place to help avoid collisions, such as training all our deck officers with the Ocean Research & Conservation Association (ORCA) and we follow regulations designed to protect whales and other marine life,” an MSC spokesperson said in an email message.

As of mid-May, the whale’s cause of death was unknown. The conservation group, based in Hampton Bays, N.Y., said the necropsy found tissue trauma on the whale’s right shoulder blade and right flipper. It also determined the whale’s stomach was full of food.

“Most of the other organs were sampled as well for toxicology and other life history studies. Samples were collected and will be sent for histopathologic analysis. The tissue and bone samples collected will help biologists determine if the vessel interaction occurred pre or postmortem,” the group’s statement said.

Sei whales are among the largest whales in the world. These endangered whales can grow to more than 60 feet long and weigh more than 30 tons. They are typically observed in deep waters far from the coast, the conservation group said.

Cataloguing the number of whale strikes globally due to commercial vessels is virtually impossible. But NOAA data shows these incidents happen regularly. Between 2010 to 2014, the agency said, there were 37 whales injured by vessel strikes along the U.S. and Canadian Atlantic coasts. NOAA estimates a similar number of strikes occurred off the U.S. Pacific Coast and Alaska during the same period.

“But these minimum estimates are likely low because the number of deaths and serious injuries that go unreported is unknown,” the agency said.

Multiple regulations are in place to protect North Atlantic right whales. These include speed limits for vessels 65 feet or longer passing through seasonal migration paths for endangered North Atlantic right whales. Ships larger than 300 gross tons also must report their location when they enter critical right whale habitats.