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Another breaching whale lands on boat off South Africa

by Lee Mylchreest on 7 Nov 2012
This photo of a breaching whale on sailing boat two years ago was captured by a photographer SW
Apart from not sailing during the migration season, an underwater collision with a whale is one of those unavoidable incidents that any sailor dreads; but a whale that breaches on top of your boat is too terrible to imagine. This is the second such incident to occur in South Africa in as many years.

Just two years ago a couple narrowly escaped disaster off the coast of South Africa when they were crushed by a breaching whale (see http://www.sail-world.com/CruisingAus/Whale-dismasts-yacht---investigation-pending/72329!Sail-World_Story), and now three men have been injured in a similar incident, also off the coast of South Africa.

According to South Africa's National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI) the three men were injured this week when 'the breaching whale leaped out of the sea and crashed onto their inflatable boat.'

The force of the blow capsized their boat and they were thrown into the water.

Albertus Myburgh, 41, Wouter van Heerden, 25, and Rodney van der Mecht, 35, swam back to the boat and were able to call for help, since one of their cell phones was still working, NSRI spokesman Craig Lambinon said.

'The three men had no idea what kind of whale it was, they just knew it was big,' Lambinon said.

A pod of humpback whales had recently been spotted in the area, mammals that can be as long as 16 meters (52 feet) and which tend to weigh around 36 tons, Lambinon said.

The incident occurred Monday night so that finding the three men and their boat in the dark was difficult, but 'finally, with the aid of a flare, the three men were found hanging onto the boat at one nautical mile off the South African coast,' the NSRI spokesman said.

Myburgh had several broken ribs, and injuries to one leg and an arm, for which he was taken to a medical center in serious but stable condition. Van Heerden injured an arm and Van der Mecht escaped with slight injuries.

'The boat has sustained extensive damage,' commented Ian Gray, National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI) Port Elizabeth station commander.

'The men claim they were motoring slowly off-shore when a whale breached in front of their boat and came onto their boat, causing the boat and all three men to go under water as the whale sunk back into the water.'

While the species of whale is unknown, he said breaching humpback whales have been spotted in the area.

South Africa is on the humpback's migratory route, with the ocean giants returning to Antarctic waters toward the end of the year.

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