From Whale to Jail? Boat Owners in Hot Water

First a whale jumps on and crushes your boat. Then you face the prospect of two years in jail or more than $40 grand in fines. Could it get any worse?

Photographs and later a video surfaced last week showing a 33-foot southern right whale soaring out of the water off Cape Town, South Africa, and landing on a couple's boat, nearly destroying it.

But the incident was more than just a freak accident. On Friday a spokesman for the local environmental agency confirmed to that his group is investigating reports that the boat owner was harassing the whale -- and he could face harsh fines and even jail time if found guilty.

"The Department is conducting an investigation following a complaint from the public that the vessel was harassing the whale," Zolile Nqayi, the director of communications for South Africa's Department of Environmental Affairs, told

"The complaint is that the vessel came closer than the regulated 300 meters to any whale," Nqayi clarified. Any person convicted of interfering with whales or dolphins without authority can be fined up to 300,000 rand [$41,140 dollars] or face up to two years imprisonment, according to local laws.

"We asked the skipper of the vessel to provide us with an incident report and we received one on Monday, 26 July," Nqayi told The agency refused to supply a copy of the incident report.

The public was taken with the images of the incident, especially the most-seen picture of a seemingly calm captain about to be crushed by the looming whale overhead. although many were skeptical of the veracity of the photographs, the environmental group doesn't share those doubts.

"Neither the skipper nor the complainant has questioned the credibility of the picture," Nqayi told, "and we therefore have no reason to doubt it."

The couple, Ralph Mothes and Paloma Werner, posted pictures of the incident on a Facebook page associated with their company, Cape Town Sailing Academy.

The couple detailed the incident in a typo-laden post on the social-networking site:

"While taking some pictures we decided to had back when a southern right whale, between 11 - 14 m long, breach about 100 meters away from us and then suddenly breach about 10 meters from us and then on us. We where sailing had no engine of so we could not even take any action. Scary!"

Mothes said his 32-foot steel boat had held up well, sustaining no structural damage despite the right whale's massive bulk.