An English family who were enjoying a sailing trip in a chartered £150,000 yacht off the coast of Australia had a hair-raising experience recently when a 30ft humpback whale suddenly leapt out of the sea and landed on top of their boat.
"We knew there were whales in the area and were told there was a small chance we might see one in the distance," said skipper Trevor Johnson, 61. "Well, I guess we saw one alright. I was below deck when there was a hell of a crash from port as it leapt out of nowhere."
"It wiped out all the rigging and the mast, which was 40ft high, followed shortly after. One of the lads shouted ‘It’s a whale’, and I saw this shape slide down the side of the boat and disappear into the sea on the stern side, uttering a long, eerie groan as it went."
"It left behind a scene of devastation and also bits of itself," he said.
The extent of the whale’s injuries could not be ascertained, but a photograph taken shortly after the incident showed the wounded mammal floating just below the water’s surface, with blood billowing out around her body.
Whale experts said it is possible that the Johnson family inadvertently sailed their boat between a mother whale and her calf, alarming the mother and prompting her to take drastic measures to protect her calf.
Johnson’s son Mark, 27, said, "There was a bang and a thud, and a whale came about 12 feet out of the water and slid down the side. My brother pushed himself away from the whale, because we didn’t know if it might fall our way."
"It was shedding barnacles from its tummy and caught itself on the rigging," he said.
The family’s own injuries were slight, but they found themselves facing the dismal prospect of becoming shipwrecked on nearby rocks.
"Helen got a bump on the head but otherwise we were unhurt, which is incredible," Johnson said. "But I couldn’t believe what I was seeing as I looked at the damage [to the boat]. The rigging, sails, mast, all gone."
"There was £30,000 of damage and because the mast was broken off the radio didn’t work…We were 10 miles out to sea in choppy waters and had no equipment to radio for help."
"Luckily the police arrived just in time and towed us back," he said.
Humpback whales normally migrate to the Antarctic to give birth, and then bring their offspring back to the Arctic where the water is warmer.
The whale may have been making her way back from the Antarctic with her new calf when the boat ran between them, experts said.
"Whales are usually very placid animals, but if the boat did disturb a mother and her calf there is a possibility that she could have taken exception to this and jumped at the boat," said John Gould, a marine mammals expert at Bangor University.
"Whales do jump out of the water as a social display or to delouse themselves, so it is normal behaviour in that respect. But I have never heard of a whale jumping on to a boat before," he said.
It is not yet known whether the whale survived the incident.