The family of an 18-year-old man who remains in a coma after a whale landed on his boat on the NSW South Coast says the long-term implications of his injuries are unknown.
Nick was fishing with his stepfather, Matt (both surnames withheld), off the coast of his hometown of Narooma on Sunday, 6 June, when the whale surfaced from beneath the water and landed on their small boat.
“They had no warning and no time to react,” said the family.
Matt was also injured, but able to return the boat to shore and make a mayday call on the radio.
An ambulance was quick to the scene and met the pair at the Centenary Drive boat ramp in Narooma at around 8:00 am.
“No doubt Matt’s actions saved Nick’s life,” said the family.
Matt was treated at Moruya Hospital for cuts and bruises, while Nick was transferred to Canberra Hospital where he remains in a coma.
The family said Matt and Nick are seasoned fishermen and that the accident could have happened to anyone.
The family has since asked for privacy to concentrate on Nick’s recovery, but thanked everyone for the love and support they have received.
“Nick is a strong, young man and he is fighting hard,” said the family.
Chris Caldow was chatting to Nick at the boat ramp before he left on the vessel, and saw their boat coming back.
He didn’t notice the condition of the boat or the pair as they returned, but said Nick seemed like a “top bloke”.
A friend of Nick’s family, Carmen Bartley, has set up a ‘Keep Nick Afloat’ GoFundMe fundraising page to ease the family’s financial stress while they stay in Canberra, including paying for accommodation and taking time off work.
“Nick was due to start a new job this week,” she said.
“At this stage, we don’t know what the future holds, but [we] are assuming Nick will need modifications to [his] home, and possibly even need to move to a larger house depending on his needs.”
Following Nick’s accident, authorities have urged skippers to be aware of their surroundings and maintain safe distances while on the water during this season’s whale migration along the NSW coast.
Warren Stubbs runs whale charters from Narooma and said it’s extremely dangerous to be ocean fishing at this time of year.
He said whales can hold their breath for 40 minutes, which means fishers could be totally unaware the mammals are swimming beneath them.
“It’s the humpback highway at this time of year and those whales can weigh 40 tonnes and be 17 metres in length,” said Mr Stubbs.
He said anyone out in the waters must maintain a 100-metre distance from an adult whale and 300 metres from a calf, and should never position themselves in front of a whale.
“The whales may be travelling north, but they don’t always travel in a straight line,” said Mr Stubbs. “They zig-zag or can even be heading south.”
Marine Area Commander, Superintendent Joe McNulty, said NSW Maritime has launched an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the incident.
“While inquiries are in their infancy, the incident demonstrates the dangers these mammals can pose to those on the water,” he said.
“In recent days, the number of whales migrating north has dramatically increased, and maritime authorities have received reports they’re travelling closer to the coast than in previous years.
“Given the close proximity to the shoreline, there is potential for some spectacular whale watching, but we encourage anyone hoping to get a closer look to maintain a safe distance.”
It is believed the whale may have also been injured during the incident, and the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) will work with the Organisation for the Rescue and Research of Cetaceans in Australia (ORRCA) to ensure assistance is provided if required.
Anyone who sees a stranded, entangled or distressed whale is urged to contact NPWS on 1300 072 757 (13000 PARKS).