Boat Runs Over Whale Off New England Coast as Whale-Watchers Snap Photos

A boat struck a whale off New Hampshire's coast, leaving a deep gash as sightseers aboard three whale-watching boats snapped photos.

The finback whale, about 60 feet long, suffered a 3-foot-long gash in its side and other smaller cuts, but it didn't appear to be seriously hurt, the Coast Guard said. Finbacks are a federally protected endangered species.

The driver of the 24-foot boat reported the whale strike, Coast Guard Petty Officer Karinne Spethman said. The investigation is continuing.

Violations of the Marine Mammal Protection Act are punishable by up to a year in prison or a $25,000 fine, according to Michael Henry, a special agent with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. He said charges would require proof that the act was intentional or neglectful.

"Whale strikes are rare. We don't investigate them very much," Henry said. "Typically, boaters are well aware of whales and try to avoid them. In this situation, there were several witnesses."

Jen Kennedy, marine conservation director of the Blue Ocean Society, said the whale surfaced nine times before it was hit, each time spouting water 20 feet into the air. She was one of about 60 passengers on the Atlantic Queen, a whale-watching boat that had been following the whale and another finback Saturday.

"It was almost the size of our boat," Kennedy said. "They're lucky they didn't get hurt."