I realize I’m weighing in on this story a tad late, since the actual incident happened on July 18, off the coast of Cape Town, South Africa. But since this story continues to live on the internet I think it’s still fair game.
We’ll never know what the whale was thinking since we still haven’t come up with any ways to communicate with other species besides sign language, which doesn’t really work well with wild whales. So we have to guess about what really happened.
Let’s start by looking at the greater context of whales. There are records of whales targeting ships, usually associated with whaling. Of course the famous sinking of the Essex, the story that inspired Melville to write Moby Dick, which sunk after being rammed by an angry sperm whale. I’ve also seen video footage of a sperm whale ramming a boat, but that seemed to be just an act of aggression and the boat was left unscathed.
There are also detailed descriptions of gray whales becoming raging mad as they attempted to protect their young from being slaughtered by whalers. In the 1850’s, Charles Melville Scammon sailed his ship straight to the protected lagoons of Baja California where gray whales give birth and mate. Scammon and his crew killed as many whales as possible. The gray whales put up a great fight though, sinking small boats by smashing them with their tails, chasing boats and ramming them. (For a more detailed account of gray whale fighting tactics read this great article by American Heritage magazine.)
I’m sure there are more accounts of whales taking action, but from the stories I know almost always the whale is provoked or attempting to protect their young. Every time I’ve gone whale watching the whales either ignore the boat or come up and check us out by circling or spyhopping. Never has a whale gone into attack mode.
Plus, right whales are some of the gentlest whales of all! They swim really slow, usually floating lazily at the surface, which also made them easy targets for whalers. Hence their name “right” whale because to whalers they were the right whale to hunt. So for a right whale to land on a boat like that, something must have provoked him. It would be extremely out of character for a whale to crash into a boat for no reason. A whale would only risk harm to himself if he had a very good cause. If you watch the video, the whale’s movements are very calculated, he heads straight for the boat and then lands on it. The people who were on the boat claim they didn’t do anything. But to me it seems there is more to this story than meets the eye.
So just be safe and don’t provoke a 50 ton animal people, you will pay the price. And leave the whales alone! Haven’t we done enough?