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In the Heart of the "Bering" Sea

Updated: May 3, 2019

A *true* tall tale of a whale's tail and a real life Moby Dick

It was July 4th, 2016. I had just graduated with a bachelor’s degree and decided to pursue my passions by collecting fisheries data for the government on fishing boats in the Bering Sea. Five days into my first contract, I found myself in the midst of a tall-tale. I was on a 14ft inflatable skiff with two members of my crew floating outside of Dutch Harbor without the motor running. They were fishing for halibut, but I was just there for the ride. We saw a whale fluke about 300 ft away and the skipper started talking about how nervous he got being in the water with animals bigger than the boat he's in. About thirty seconds later there was a massive BOOM, gravity shifted, and my world went dark for a few seconds. 

Dutch Harbor, Alaska - situated in the heart of the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands
Dutch Harbor, Alaska - situated in the heart of the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands

When I managed to get myself on my knees, through foggy vision I saw the skipper upside down in the water, hanging onto the boat with one leg.  Fishing gear and personal belongs were strewn about everywhere, and the skiff had a serious list to the stern. Having originally been sitting on the bow, I was now sprawled out in the water-swamped stern, glasses nowhere to be found. The third crewman was struggling with his fishing line which appeared to be caught on what had hit us - a 40 ft humpback whale. As the skipper got himself back in the boat I started screaming that we needed to leave in case the whale decided to have another go at us.

For the moment the whale was floating directly under our stern, seemingly dazed with its left flipper towering ten feet above us. 

When the skipper moved to the motor he realized it was broken, as well as the tiller. After a minute of panic, he managed to get the boat in neutral and started the motor. But the other crew member still had his rod stuck on the whale. He gave it one last tug and it finally came free with a "plink". At this point I started to choke with blood pouring down my throat, but I could not yet feel what was wrong. So I swallowed the warm, acerbic liquid, and we began bailing water from the skiff. Slowly but surely we puttered back to the mothership. As soon as we reached land I was brought to the local clinic in Dutch Harbor, patched up, and back working at sea the next morning. 

A few days later we found whale skin all over the hull of the broken skiff. I sent a sample back to NOAA, but I never did hear what became of it.

Me "cleaned up" after the encounter with the humpback
Me "cleaned up" after the encounter with the humpback, face quite swollen

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