By Steve Quinn
JUNEAU Alaska (Reuters) - A ship strike killed a protected humpback whale off Kodiak, Alaska, but an investigation could not conclude whether a state ferry was responsible and no charges will be filed, federal officials said on Wednesday.
The state ferry Kennicott hit the 30-foot (9-meter), 25-ton (22.6-tonne) female whale as it was coming into harbor on July 26, and the probe had sought to determine if the giant mammal was already dead at that point.
The whales are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act and under the Endangered Species Act.
Doug Meecum, deputy regional administrator with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said there was no evidence of any violation of laws, regulations or procedures.
"Investigators completed their due diligence," Meecum said.
The state ferry was traveling to Kodiak Island from Homer when the collision forced the whale's body partially onto the ship. As the ferry slowed, the whale then fell back into the water and only resurfaced two days later.
Kate Wynne, a marine mammal specialist for the University of Alaska Sea Grant Program, led the necropsy in late July.
Wynne said there was no doubt the whale died from being struck by a ship, but that there could be no way to know for sure whether it was alive when it was hit by the ferry.
She said a ship essentially "T-boned" the whale at the base of its skull, producing a fractured skull, vertebrae and ribs.
(Reporting by Steve Quinn; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Sandra Maler)