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Investigators probe whether ferry killed humpback whale in Alaska

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JUNEAU, Ala. - Authorities in Alaska are investigating whether a state ferry killed a 30-foot (9-meter), 25-ton (22.6-tonne) humpback whale in a collision near Kodiak Island, or whether the giant mammal was already dead when it was struck, officials said on Friday.

Kate Wynne, a marine mammal specialist for the University of Alaska Sea Grant Program, said there was no doubt the whale died from being hit by a sea-going vessel.

"It came onto the bow of the state ferry and into the harbor," said Wynne, who took part in the whale's necropsy.

"Whether it was dead when it was hit by the ferry or whether it was alive, that remains the question. But some ship killed it. That's obvious."

Humpback whales are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act, and officials from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are overseeing the investigation, a NOAA spokeswoman said.

Wynne said the state ferry Kennicott was en route to Kodiak from Homer on July 26 when it struck the whale. As the ship slowed in the harbor, its body fell into the waves and only resurfaced two days later, she said.

She said the whale had suffered typical ship-strike damage, with a vessel having apparently "T-boned" it at the base of its skull, producing a fractured skull, vertebrae and ribs.

Wynne said the damage from the impact would be similar to a human being getting struck by a train.

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