Two people were taken to hospital after a humpback whale collided with a boat off the coast of Victoria on Monday afternoon.
According to Department of Fisheries and Oceans spokesperson Lara Sloan, 11 passengers were aboard a Prince of Whales Whale Watching zodiac boat near Race Rocks Ecological Reserve, west of Victoria, when a whale surfaced, sending the vessel sideways.
The animal had not been sighted before the accident and is not believed to be injured. It reportedly surfaced three times after the collision before diving out of sight.
The boat was travelling at between 24 to 27 knots (44 to 50 kilometres per hour) at the time and was escorted back to Victoria afterward by a Coast Guard rescue boat.
Paramedics met the whale watching boat at the dock and transported the injured passengers to hospital for observation.
One of the two was later released, while the other was said to be stable and recovering in hospital as of Tuesday evening.
Ben Duthie, sales and operations manager for the company, said the collision was unforeseeable.
“This is a freak accident that could have happened to anyone transiting the waters in the Salish Sea,” he said. “This is the first time it has happened in 22 years.”
While standard practice for the industry is to keep a distance of at least 100 metres, Duthie said the whale was not seen prior to the incident.
“The animals that had been previously seen in the day, we were watching them from a respectable distance,” he said, adding his company deeply respects the animals they watch.
“We are stewards of the environment; we are an educational platform, taking people out into the wild and teaching them about these animals.”
Sloan said the risk of collisions with whales is greater as their population has increased by about four per cent per year.
“DFO takes the report of a commercial whale watching vessel hitting a whale seriously,” she said in an email. “It is too soon to comment on the cause of this incident; further investigation will need to take place to determine the factors involved.”
Local whale watching associations will be on the lookout for any injured whales over the coming weeks, and both Transport Canada and the Transportation Safety Board will also be investigating.
“At this point we are completely complying,” Duthie said. The hope in sharing the story, he added, is that other boaters will make any necessary adjustments to ensure they are operating safely in areas that humpback whales can be found.
As for any changes Prince of Whales may make to the their operations, he said it’s too early to tell.