TORONTO – A 35-year-old Calgary woman is dead after a breaching grey whale crashed onto a tourist boat on a snorkel tour Wednesday.
Global News has confirmed Jen Karren was killed in the incident. Karren worked in the mailroom at the Calgary office of WorleyParsons, an Australia-based company that provides engineering and construction consulting services in the resources and energy sector.
WorleyParsons employed Karren for six years, and said in a statement colleagues remember her as a “positive, friendly teammate who was willing to help out wherever she could.”
“She always spoke kindly of everyone with whom she came in contact,” said the statement.
“Jen will hold a special place in the hearts of many, including her teammates of the WorleyParsons Freedom Riders, with whom she participated in the Ride to Conquer Cancer for the last two years.”
The Baja California Sur state prosecutor’s office said the collision with the whale less than two kilometres from the Cabo San Lucas resort tossed the victim into the water.
Firefighter commander Juan Carvajal Figueroa said the woman was in a boat with other tourists returning to port around noon when the whale jumped from the water and landed on the boat.
Karren was transported by boat to a local hospital where she succumbed to her injuries. At least two others were reportedly injured in the accident.
Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi learned of the incident Thursday morning during a trip to Nova Scotia.
“I’m not much of a vacationing guy, but I’ve actually been there,” said Mayor Nenshi. “The only resort vacation I’ve taken was in Cabo San Lucas, so I can visualize what happened and it’s just a horrible tragedy – and certainly our thoughts and prayers are with that family.”
“Our sincere condolences go out to the victim’s family and friends, and we wish a quick recovery to the injured tourists,” said the Los Cabos Tourism Board in a statement Thursday afternoon. The board said the snorkeling excursion took place in Santa Maria Bay.
Canadian consular officials in Cabo San Lucas are providing assistance to the victim’s family, Department of Foreign Affairs spokesperson John Babcock said in an email.
“Our thoughts are with the family and friends of a Canadian Citizen who passed away in Mexico,” Babcock said. “To protect the private and personal information of the individual concerned, further details on this case cannot be released.”
The Attorney General’s Office for Environmental Protection said the boat had been carrying nine tourists on a snorkel tour. It described the vessel as “a fragile type with inflatable parts.”
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In a statement, tour operator Cabo Adventures said the boat’s captain “had to make a movement to avoid a whale that surfaced just in front of the boat.”
Cabo Adventures said the whale hit one side of the boat, causing injuries to the woman and two others.
The tour company refused an interview request from Global News.
Local media reported the Canadian victim was knocked overboard during the incident and the captain of the Zodiac had to circle back. She was then pulled onto the boat and a tourist began performing CPR.
Images from the scene show Karren being transferred from the Zodiac onto a naval boat as emergency responders performed CPR.
Whales surface to breathe, often unexpectedly. Collisions between whales and boats are not unknown in Mexico, where whales come to breed in coastal lagoons in winter.
Tony Wimmer, World Wildlife Fund Canada’s manager in species conservation, said there are always concerns about how wild animals interact with humans.
“It’s not the fault of the animal, it’s not the fault of the person operating the vessel, sometimes these accidents just happen,” said Wimmer. “They are considered to be rare events.”
Wimmer said whales can be especially “tricky.”
“They only spend 10 to 20 per cent of their time on the surface, so a lot of times you can be on the surface of the ocean and not know that they are underneath you.”
Authorities generally require boats to stay a safe distance away from whales in whale-watching areas and protected reserves, but those rules don’t apply in the area around Cabo San Lucas.
With files from Global News reporter Tony Tighe and The Associated Press