Fin and humpback whale sightings are common this time of year off Puerto Penasco, a Mexican city at the north end of the Sea of Cortez about 60 miles from the Arizona border. The whales follow krill, their food source, during the cooler months.
Whale-watching trips do especially good business because of this seasonal phenomenon. During a Feb. 1 excursion aboard Gato Loco, a 33-foot Seawind 1000 sailing catamaran, Gillian Panasewicz captured dramatic photos of an encounter between a whale and a fishing boat.
“It was absolutely mind-blowing, breathtaking. It was just a brilliant sight,” Panasewicz told a local media outlet.
“There was a couple of times when the whale came really close to our boat. In fact, one of the times it felt like she slightly nudged us, but she went right by the boat and we’re thinking, Oh wow, hope she doesn’t decide to go up underneath us.”
The humpback whale instead collided with the nearby boat.
Click play for a slideshow of the drama.
“A Mexican fishing boat … was coming into shore and it was very well loaded. And so the bow was up and they really couldn’t see where they were going,” Panasewicz said. “And just as they were driving in, the whale decided to come up out of the water a little bit, and they just collided completely. … It was a very loud crash.”
Although it came close to capsizing, the panga righted, and the crew made it to shore with no injuries and minimal damage to their boat.
Brian and Heather Heffernan, a local couple who run a real estate business, posted a selection of Panasewicz’s photos on their website, adding some local knowledge for context.
Collisions between whales and boats aren’t uncommon along Mexico’s Pacific coast. Last June, a whale strike sank a 22-ton, 50-foot sailboat about 40 miles off Mexico and 400 miles southwest of San Diego.
Solo sailor Max Young estimated it at 55 feet.
"The head of that whale would have had to have cleared at least 12 feet [from the water] before he came down on the boat," Young told The Associated Press. "I could see its head. It must have been a young whale because he only had a few barnacles."
— Rich Armstrong