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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, January 7, 2004

Boater offers more details on collision with whale

By Jan TenBruggencate
Advertiser Staff Writer

WAILUKU, Maui — Wailea firefighter Sandy Parker, 27, was alone in his 18-foot fishing boat Monday when a humpback whale surfaced about 20 feet in front of him.

Parker doesn't recall clearly what happened next. He was knocked unconscious by the impact, suffering deep gashes to his head, scrapes and bruises, and pain in his chest and hip. Doctors told him he had a mild concussion.

Parker believes he tried to turn the boat away from the whale's head, and may have struck it near the tail. He thinks he must have pulled back the throttle, because when he came to, the boat was motoring slowly in reverse. He doesn't know how long he was out.

"I think the whale is fine," he noted.

Parker wasn't.

He believes he was traveling about 18 knots, from East Moloka'i to Kahului Harbor, shortly after noon. He had just passed Kahakuloa on West Maui and was in about 100 feet of water.

The boat may have been knocked on its side, he said. His radio antenna was snapped in three places.

He also found bits of black, tarlike material sticking to his back and side, and on the boat. "I don't know what it is. Maybe whale skin," he said.

He steered the boat toward Kahului as his vision cleared. Before the impact, he had called friends to meet him at the harbor, and they helped him when he arrived.

He was taken by ambulance to Maui Memorial Medical Center, where physicians used 20 stitches and 12 staples to close his head wound.

It was the second major impact between a boat and a whale in two weeks. A 3-year-old Virginia boy died of head injuries after a collision between a humpback whale and whale-watching boat off O'ahu on Christmas Day.

Both accidents are being investigated, partly to identify ways to minimize future collisions, said Margaret Akamine, protected species program coordinator for the National Marine Fisheries Service.

Akamine said federal law requires that boaters stay 100 yards from any whales known to be present. "We want to be mindful that there are reasons for those regulations," she said. "These are large, wild animals."

Reach Jan TenBruggencate at jant@honoluluadvertiser.com or (808) 245-3074.