A breaching whale surprised boaters off Plymouth, Mass., July 24 when it launched out of the water and crashed down on the bow of a small sport fishing boat.

Photos and video showed the mammal, believed to be in a feeding mode on menhaden, erupting out of the sea surface amid a cluster of small craft. The impact pushed the bow of the struck boat into the water and bent its bow rails, but two people on board were unhurt, according to the Plymouth Harbormaster’s office.

The 19-foot boat along with other vessels was off the White Horse Beach area on Sunday morning. A harbormaster boat was patrolling to watch for any potential violations of the federal Marine Mammal Act, which prohibits boat operators from closely approaching or harassing whales.

After the whale struck the small boat, the harbormaster responded to check on the occupant’s safety.

“The operator reported no injuries and no major damage that affected the seaworthiness of the vessel. Plymouth Harbormaster forwarded all information to the Massachusetts Environmental Police to handle the investigation into the incident,” according to a statement from the harbormaster.

“The Plymouth Harbormaster Department recommends a distance of at least 100 yards to minimize potential interactions with whales. This interaction, while rare, is a reminder that these interactions can be dangerous for both boaters and whales."

Better pollution controls, improved water quality and thriving stocks of menhaden and other forage fish are contributing to increasing whale activity in nearshore East Coast waters, according to marine scientists and whale watch captains. New York waters off the south shore of Long Island have been one hotspot in recent years, with recreational anglers reporting close encounters when whales suddenly appear.

The whale's impact shattered a forward hatch and bent bow rails, but the boat's crew were unhurt. Plymouth Harbormaster office photo.

Associate Editor Kirk Moore was a reporter for the Asbury Park Press for more than 30 years and a 25-year field editor for National Fisherman before joining our Commercial Marine editorial staff in 2015. He wrote several award-winning stories on marine, environmental, coastal and military issues that helped drive federal and state government policy changes. Moore was awarded the Online News Association 2011 Knight Award for Public Service for the “Barnegat Bay Under Stress,” 2010 series that led to the New Jersey state government’s restoration plan. He lives in West Creek, N.J.

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