The Cote d’Ivoirian Star – which was travelling from Senegal to Portsmouth – sent a call to coastguards after the impact on Monday and subsequently spent seven hours anchored off the east coast of the Isle of Wight while the coastguard investigated. Eventually, the 185 metre ship came into port in darkness, accompanied by three tugs.
Ben McInnes, Portsmouth International Port’s harbourmaster, said: “On Monday morning, during a routine boarding of AEL’s Cote D’Ivorian Star, a regular cargo ship carrying fruit from Africa, pilot boat crew spotted an object on the bow of the vessel.
“On further inspection the object was sadly identified as a deceased whale.
“Fortunately this is a rare incident, but can be quite complex and involves a number of agencies to help resolve.”
These agencies include the Counter Pollution Team, Receiver of Wreck, Portsmouth International Port and the Queen’s Harbour Master, as well as numerous environmental and conservation agencies.
Mr McInnes added that it was unclear where the collision occurred or whether the whale was already dead when it came into contact with the ship.
The whale is believed to be a rorqual whale, belonging to the baleen family – which includes the likes of blue whales and fin whales.
They can weigh up to 180 tonnes and the remains of the whale are now being examined in Portsmouth.
Sally Hamilton, director of whale and dolphin charity Orca, said instances such as this are becoming increasingly common.
She said: “We are deeply saddened by images of this beautiful creature in Portsmouth port. Sadly, ship strike is becoming increasingly common and a global problem for the maritime sector.
“It’s why an Orca ship strike project, in association with the University of Portsmouth, is so important.
“Working with Brittany Ferries, researchers are looking at exactly how whales behave when a ship approaches on regular ferry voyages through the Bay of Biscay.
“When complete, we hope that evidence gathered could lead to protocols or training for all ship crews, wherever they operate in the world.”
James Robbins, from the University of Portsmouth, has studied whale collisions with ships and told the BBC the mammal could have become disorientated and found its way into the English Channel shipping lanes. Alternatively, it may have been struck in the Bay of Biscay, where whales are known to gather.