A research boat used by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), a federal agency charged with protecting the endangered North Atlantic Right Whale, collided with one of the whales off the Massachusetts coast this Sunday.

The NOAA vessel Auk was on its way back from a research journey when a Right Whale surfaced just 10 feet in front of the boat. The boat collided with the whale and the propeller cut into the animal’s left tail fluke. According to NOAA spokesman David Miller, the lacerations on the left tail fluke did not appear to be life-threatening. Researchers followed the whale for about 45 minutes after the accident and it appeared to be OK.

north atlantic right whale Endangered whale hit by whale protection research boat

The accident highlights how difficult it is to avoid whale collisions and how we must work even harder to learn new ways of keeping these animals safe from boats. Even with the special precautions taken by NOAA vessels, the calamity still happened.

To me, if it can happen to NOAA, it can happen to anybody,” said Regina Asmutis-Silvia, a Plymouth-based biologist with the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society. “Therefore, everybody needs to up the ante and up their vigilance and take the issue much more seriously.

Ship strikes are currently the major threat to the North Atlantic Right Whale (Eubalaena glacialis). This year, a record number of calves were born in U.S. waters, but the population still comprises no more than roughly 400 animals.