SEATTLE (AP) — A ferry hit a humpback whale near Seattle and the Coast Guard initially searched for the animal after passengers reported it was injured and bleeding.
The whale surfaced Tuesday about five feet (1.5 meters) in front of the M/V Wenatchee during its evening trip from Seattle to Bainbridge Island across Puget Sound.
The crew at first thought the ferry had hit a log but later spotted the whale alongside the boat, ferries spokeswoman Diane Rhodes said.
Passengers reported seeing the injured whale bleeding.
"The whale surfaced after being struck and gushing a lot of blood. It surfaced a few more times before sinking," Seattle resident Beth Andrus told The Seattle Times.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration say it is "likely the strike was fatal" based on the information given by witnesses. They have launched an investigation into the incident.
Typically, a ferry crew member on the bridge looks out for whales or other obstacles in the water.
However, crew members did not see the whale coming Tuesday and did not have time to maneuver away from it.
The ferry was traveling at about 18 mph (29 kph) when the whale was struck about three minutes after the ferry left dock.
NOAA spokesman Michael Milstein said the agency used a photo to identify the whale as a humpback.
The Coast Guard said it did not plan to actively search for the whale Wednesday, because it was hit in a high traffic area and could be spotted by another ship if it's visible.
The West Coast Marine Mammal Stranding Network has been notified and is on alert for an injured or dead whale in the area.
To report a dead, injured or stranded marine mammal, please call the network at 1-866-767-6114.