Sailor dies in Australia after whale knocks crew into ocean

Man dies after whale flips boat in Sydney's Botany Bay

A 61-year-old sailor has died in Australia after a whale breached near his boat, striking and knocking the crew of two into the water, local authorities have confirmed.

Police in New South Wales pulled an unconscious man from the water off La Perouse near Sydney on Saturday morning (30 September 2023), after responding to reports of an unoccupied boat circling nearby. Despite efforts to resuscitate him, the man was declared dead aboard the rescue vessel.

Australia’s 9 News has named the sailor as Stuart Collings. The outlet reports that Collings’ 53-year-old brother-in-law Darren Curmi, who was the skipper, was rescued from the water before being taken to hospital in a stable condition for monitoring.

Police believe the two men were in the water for about 45 minutes. It’s reported that Curmi had stayed with his brother-in-law and had tried all he could to keep him afloat until police arrived.

“A witness vessel was travelling out to the headlands and noticed the vessel doing laps without anybody on board,” acting superintendent Siobhan Munro told media in a statement. “And that’s when they identified that there were two people in the water and called emergency services.”

Munro adds that the sailors were “in a 4.8-metre runabout”, which would be suitable for the conditions where the vessel was located. The pair were on a fishing expedition.

Witnesses also on the water just outside the heads at Botany Bay heard a “big bang” before the boat tipped over. “Something big came out of the water, it was huge,” one told local outlet The Daily Telegraph. “It was still dark, but you could see this big black shape jump out of the water.”

State Emergency Services Minister Jihad Dib said it was “an absolute freak accident”.

The boat “was likely to have struck or been impacted by a whale breaching, causing the boat to tilt, ejecting both men”, police said in a statement. It did not identify the whale’s species.

“There are lots of whales out there,” Munro says. “It is not unheard of the stories of whales breaching next to boats, which is obviously captured quite often.

“So this is a tragic accident but not one that I guess would be… unexpected. It is a stark reminder that although you could be out on the water having the best day, it could quickly turn into one of the worst days if skippers aren’t prepared or if tragic incidents like this occur.”

Australia’s coastline is home to 10 large and 20 smaller species of whales, and human deaths caused by whales in the region are rare.

Whale attacks on boats have been making global headlines in recent months, after a spate of ramming and other interaction by orca off the Iberian coastline. Some experts suggest that the whales are teaching their young to attack boats.

Last month, the Cruising Association released a new research library to document reports of orca interactions gathered from skippers worldwide.

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