Human deaths caused by whales are rare but there have been instances reported of collisions of the aquatic mammals with boats in the region.
Police officials said two men, aged 61 and 53, were on a fishing trip early Saturday morning at around 6am local time when the mishap occurred. They were pulled unconscious from Botany Bay, off the coast of Sydney. The 61-year-old, however, later succumbed to his injuries.
“Attempts to revive him were unsuccessful and the 61-year-old was declared deceased,” police said in a statement.
The other man was taken to the hospital and is now in a stable condition, police said. “A second male, aged 53, was assisted by witnesses. He was transferred to Foreshore Road Boat Ramp and treated by New South Wales (NSW) ambulance paramedics, before being taken to hospital in a stable condition,” the police said.
NSW police minister Yasmin Catley confirmed the incident. “A whale has been involved, whoever would have thought that that would have occurred, it’s terribly tragic,” she said.
It was “an absolute freak accident”, NSW’s emergency services minister Jihad Dib said.
The 4.8m runabout boat “was likely to have struck or been impacted by a whale breaching, causing the boat to tilt, ejecting both men”, police said in their statement.
“Detectives have commenced an investigation into the incident and a report will be prepared for the information of the Coroner,” it said.
Officials have not yet commented on the whale species. Australia’s extensive coastline hosts 10 large and 20 smaller species of whales.
An “incredible” number of whales were migrating south past Sydney this year, NSW Maritime executive director Mark Hutchings was quoted as saying by The Sydney Morning Herald.
“If you are on the water you need to be 100 metres away from an adult whale, and 300 [metres] if that whale has a calf,” he said. “The whales aren’t there to harm anyone, but those interactions can happen.”
Australia and neighbouring New Zealand are hot spots for mass whale strandings on beaches as well.
There have been recent reports of whales colliding with boats.
In September last year, five people were killed and another six rescued when a boat capsized in New Zealand after what may have been a collision with a whale.
In June, eight Danes were rescued when their sailboat capsized in the Pacific Ocean after a collision with one or two whales.