Nick Myhill, 18, suffered serious head and neck injuries when the breaking whale fell on the boat off the south coast of New South Wales (NSW) over the weekend.
Marine Rescue NSW received a mayday call on Sunday after the incident off the coast of Narooma, about 200 miles south of Sydney.
Paramedics met the ship and treated both men before transferring them to the hospital, according to the statement. Myhill was later flown to the capital Canberra, where he remains in critical but stable condition. His stepfather, who was only named as Matt, was treated at a local hospital for facial pain and concussion.
The couple, who live in Narooma, were on an early fishing trip in the morning, “doing what they love,” according to a fundraising site created by Carmen Bartley, a friend of the family.
In a statement sent to CNN, the family said: “They had no warnings and no time to react. Both Nick and Matt were injured. Matt was able to quickly get them back ashore using VHF (very high frequency ocean radio)) “Making a Mayday call along the way, organizing an ambulance to meet them on arrival at the boat ramp. Matt’s actions undoubtedly saved Nick’s life.”
Myhill remains in a coma with serious head and neck injuries, the family said.
“The extent of these injuries and the long-term consequences are not yet known. Matt and Nick are experienced fishermen and this was an accident that could have happened to anyone,” the statement said.
The family thanked the medical professionals involved in the couple’s care and added: “Nick is a strong young man and he is fighting hard.”
Authorities are now urging skippers to keep their distance from whales during the migration season.
Navy Superintendent Joe McNulty said in the Facebook post: “The incident demonstrates the dangers these mammals can pose to them on the water.
“In recent days, the number of whales migrating north has increased dramatically, and maritime authorities have received reports that they are traveling closer to shore than in previous years.
“Given the close proximity to the coast, there is potential for spectacular whale watching, but we urge anyone hoping to take a closer look to maintain a safe distance as described in the Biodiversity Conservation Regulation 2017.”
These laws make it illegal for anyone approaching a whale in a vessel to get closer than 100 meters (328 feet).
According to the police statement, the whale may have been injured in the incident and the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) is working with the Organization of Whale Rescue and Research (Australia) to monitor it.
“Humpback whales are very acrobatic and are known for their breaches, which is why they are one of the best species for whale watching,” she said.
Adult, they measure about 55 feet and can weigh 79,000 pounds for men and slightly less for women – depending on whether they are pregnant or not. They can travel up to 25 miles per hour, but are likely to drive at a more leisurely pace during migration, Babey said.
Fractures can be a form of communication, she explained with the loud noise of their tails hitting the water, warning others of danger or food in the area. However, they can also break when threatened.
“It could be its way of saying ‘don’t get closer, I’m here,’ or it could be scared and jumping out of the way. They also break up more often if they travel with young people.
“It could also just have been unfortunate – whales accidentally burst and did not know there was a vessel there.”