Southern right whale crashes sailing party -- literally

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South African sailing instructors Paloma Werner and Ralph Mothes got a whale-sized shock Sunday -- a 33-foot, 40-ton shock, to be specific -- when a southern right whale crash-landed on their sailboat in the waters off Cape Town.

Werner and Mothes first saw the whale about 110 yards from their boat; before they knew it, they said, it was only 11 yards or so from them, and lack of wind prevented them from taking evasive action to avoid it. The whale leapt and crashed into the vessel, breaking its mast but causing no other major damage.

The whale probably suffered no ill effects other than bruising and the loss of a bit of skin and blubber, a marine mammal expert said. But officials from the local Department of Environmental Affairs are investigating allegations that the couple may have approached the whale illegally.

Right whales are believed to have been named by whalers who considered them the right -- as in, correct -- type of whale to hunt. Those whalers decimated their populations, leading them to the brink of extinction before protections began to help them bounce back.


Learn more about the incident at The Times’ outdoor sports blog, Outposts.

-- Lindsay Barnett