Whale Leaps From Water, Crushes Sailboat

If you play with fire, you get burned. Or crushed, it appears.

Photographs show 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 reports indicate that the 40-ton beast was provoked into the attack -- and local officials are investigating.

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.

Reports suggest that the couple's harassing behavior may have incited the whale, however, leading the local Department of Environmental Affairs to launch an investigation. Several people came forward to say a boater had broken the law by approaching the whale, reported one local news agency.

The couple tells a different story. They point out that because this particular species of whale navigates by sound -- and has poor eyesight -- it may have simply not heard the sailboat.

"Our boat's engine was off and so the whale just didn't know we were there," Paloma Werner told the BBC.

"We were just the wrong boat, in the wrong place, at the wrong time."

Werner and her partner Ralph reportedly first saw the whale in the distance. They floated for an hour watching. "It appeared about 120 meters away from our boat and then it went under the water again," she told the BBC.

"A few moments later, I saw it resurface just 10 meters away. Suddenly I heard my partner shout, and when I looked around, I saw the huge thing breaching onto the deck.

"Instinctively, I took cover as the mast came crashing down. I saw my partner, Ralph, dive for cover behind the yacht's wheel. Then the whale slid down the side of the boat and back into the water."

"As soon as I realized that we were unhurt, we checked to see how much damage had been done.

"Luckily, we weren't taking on water so we started the engine and headed for shore. I saw the whale reappear further away.

"When we got back to land, I realized how lucky we were to have survived."

The New York Post contributed to this report.