Boy dies
watching whales

The child fatally fell when
the vessel dodged a whale; it is
unclear if the animal hit the boat


Saturday, Dec. 27, 2003

>> A 3-year-old boy died in an accident aboard a whale-watching cruise ship Thursday.
A story on Page A1 in the morning edition yesterday incorrectly reported that the boy was 5.

The Honolulu Star-Bulletin strives to make its news report fair and accurate. If you have a question or comment about news coverage, call Editor Frank Bridgewater at 529-4791 or email him at

A whale-watching accident on a tour boat off Honolulu claimed the life of a 5-year-old boy yesterday, a Coast Guard official said.

The incident occurred aboard the American Dream, a 100-foot tour boat that left Kewalo Basin with 75 crew and passengers on a regularly scheduled 9:30 a.m. whale-watching cruise.

At about 10 a.m. the captain spotted a pod of whales and was headed toward it when another pod of whales surfaced just in front of the boat, said Michael Watson, president of Dream Cruises Hawaii.

The captain slowed and stopped the American Dream, but one of the whales apparently lifted its tail and took a swipe at the left side of the bow, Watson said.

Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Todd Offut said the captain of the boat made a quick movement to try to steer the boat away from a surfacing whale. He said the boy fell and suffered a

severe head injury.

He said a nurse who happened to be aboard the boat administered cardiopulmonary resuscitation and was able to get a pulse.

A Coast Guard helicopter brought the boy ashore. He was taken by ambulance to the Queen's Medical Center where he later died.

It is not clear if the whale actually hit the boat, Offut said.

"It's one of those freak things, but God, on Christmas," Watson said. "It's a tragedy."

The family left a local phone number, but Watson said he did not know if they were from Hawaii.

Watson said his company has been conducting whale-watching tours since 1995, and this is the first time an incident like this has occurred.

Last March, a humpback whale came up under a 65-foot catamaran carrying 96 passengers on a whale-watching cruise off South Maui and lifted the boat's right stern several inches. No one was injured in that incident and another incident earlier in the season, according to the National Marine Fisheries Service.

In April of 2001 a tourist on Kauai was treated for chest pains and an injured knee after a baby humpback whale hit her as it jumped over the railing of a 40-foot catamaran on a whale-watching tour with 35 passengers.

Offut said it is not clear what kind of whales were involved in yesterday's incident.

Whale researcher Paul Nachtigall said that in general, whales do not go after boats.

"These are not nasty whales going to chase boats to run into them. They just don't do that," he said.

Nachtigall said it is more likely the whales were interacting with each other, and the boat was in the way.

"They are pretty vigorous in their behaviors among each other," he said.

The Coast Guard is investigating yesterday's incident, but a preliminary investigation shows no wrongdoing on the boat captain's part, Offut said.

The National Marine Fisheries Service might also conduct an investigation.

Under federal rules, boats are required to stay 300 feet away from whales. Watson said the captain followed proper procedures, but the second pod of whales surfaced within the 300-foot zone.

Watson said the company canceled all tours yesterday but might resume whale-watching tours today.


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