15 June 2021

Whale seriously injures young fishermen at Narooma

| Hannah Sparks
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Whale breaching

Around 35,000 humpbacks travelled along the NSW South Coast during the 2020 northerly season. Photo: Wayne Reynolds.

A man and teenager were rushed to hospital after a whale breached and hit their boat at Narooma on Sunday (6 June).

Narooma Marine Rescue volunteer Ross Constable said the fishermen managed to get to shore where an ambulance was waiting.

The ambulance met the pair at the Centenary Drive boat ramp in Narooma at about 8:00 am and took them to Moruya Hospital, a NSW Ambulance spokesman said.

A Southern NSW Local Health District spokeswoman said they were then transferred to Canberra Hospital for treatment for serious injuries.

The teenager sustained a neck and head injury, while the man in his 30s sustained a head injury, the NSW Ambulance spokesperson said.

ACT Health would not release any details on their condition but a friend of the pair said the teenager was in a “bad way” and that they were “extremely concerned”.

Region Media understands the teenager was hit by the whale.

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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 they were 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,” he said.

Lighthouse Charters Narooma and Montague Island Discovery Tours don’t run charters during the northerly season for this very reason.

Mr Stubbs 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. They zig-zag or can even be heading south,” he said.

Mr Stubbs said whales are aware of vessels when they are moving slowly or stationary, but not if they’re moving quickly.

“It’s like being in a school zone. We slow down because kids don’t have a perception of speed. Whales are the same and tend to move between 0.5 and 6.5 knots,” he said.

Mr Constable said it wasn’t unusual for Marine Rescue to hear reports of boats colliding with whales at this time of year.

“The noise of a high-speed boat can confuse the whales. It happens a lot with large ships offshore,” he said.

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