ANCHORAGE - A 91,000-ton cruise ship pulled into Seward with something more than a barnacle attached - a 25- to 30-foot dead whale was pinned to the bow.
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Federal officials are investigating the incident Saturday and said it did not appear the ship's operators did anything wrong.
The crew of the 2,000-passenger ship Summit said they were surprised to discover they had hit a whale somewhere after leaving Disenchantment Bay near Yakutat. They felt no bump during their voyage, a company spokesman said.
The whale was spotted by longshoremen after the vessel tied up at the Seward dock.
The whale was tentatively identified as a humpback. It was towed by a tugboat Saturday afternoon to a beach in nearby Thumb Cove. A necropsy has been scheduled to help determine whether the whale was alive or dead when it was struck by the Summit.
The whale was on the bulbous bow that protrudes from the ship's hull below the waterline, said Scott Adams, a Seward-based enforcement officer with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
"We have no knowledge if it struck this vessel or another vessel or just died of some genetic issue," Adams said. "It doesn't look like the result of any predatory attack."
Humpback whales are an endangered species protected under several federal laws, said Barbara Mahoney, an Alaska marine mammal specialist with the National Marine Fisheries Service.
At least two have been struck and killed by tour boats in Glacier Bay National Park in the past decade, she said.
A boat crew that is not pursuing or harassing whales, and that reports any accident, is not likely to suffer repercussions, federal officials said.
"These boats are big enough that they don't even feel a bump," Mahoney said.
The Summit, owned by Celebrity Cruises, is the length of three football fields.
Celebrity spokesman Michael Sheehan said the company notified federal and state agencies and Seward police after discovering the whale at the dock. He called the chance of striking a healthy whale and then perfectly balancing the carcass on the ship's bow "exceedingly unlikely."
But Russ Maddox, a board member of Resurrection Bay Conservation Alliance, questioned how the company could reach that conclusion. The whale was on the underwater bow protrusion and wrapped around both sides of hull.
With Resurrection Bay filled with small boats, he said, he also was concerned that something so large could be hit without detection.
"This was a large whale," he said. "It could have just as easily been a boat and they wouldn't have known it."
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