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Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Wayward Whales Winding Way Homeward?

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Two whales that lost their way more than ten days ago are now circling near a Sacramento River bridge about 70 miles from the open waters of the Pacific Ocean.

At first, scientists suggested banging pipes underwater to scare the whales toward the ocean, but that hasn’t seemed to move them. Now experts have come up with a second method that they’re confident will work.

“We’ve decided to really frighten and disgust the whales, so that they’ll leave this river and never came back,” said Hemma Rhoidal, spokesperson for WAPT (Whales Are People Too), an organization that assists whales in trouble, including those with drug, krill or alcohol problems.

“Banging pipes hasn’t worked, so we’re going to try and make some noise that will surely distress these animals,” Rhoidal said. “We’re going to start playing Joy Behar comedy albums, as well as Barry Manilow and Captain and Tenille records. If that doesn’t send them packing, nothing will.”

The organization has a special audio system that will play the records underwater. They’re also considering playing Andrew Dice Clay and Emo Phillips comedy albums, as well as Paula Abdul and Yoko Ono songs.

“If that doesn’t work, we’re going to invest in a video system and start showing them Ashton Kutcher movies. But, that’s a last resort. It’s very risky, because it could also kill the whales -- from boredom. Even whales know crappy acting when they see it.”

Both whales, believed to be a mother and her calf, are wounded, apparently from a run-in with a boat’s propeller.

“The wounds appear to have worsened over time and their skin has changed from smooth and shiny to irregular and pitted,” said Frances Guiland of the Marine Mammal Center.
Fresh water from the Sacramento River could hamper the whales’ recovery, biologists said.

Skin samples taken from the mother whale on Monday were sent to out-of-state labs to assess her general health and help identify her population stock.

Some crews in the more than two dozen boats blocking the humpbacks’ path up the river tried herding the mother and her calf downstream by banging metal pipes beneath the water.

The challenge, officials said, was encouraging the pair to return to salt water quickly but without resorting to tactics that could upset the whales.

“Stressing even a healthy whale is not good. Stressing an injured whale is worse,” said Brian Gorman, a spokesman for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The humpbacks, nicknamed Delta and Dawn, had traveled 90 miles inland more than a week ago before turning around at the Port of Sacramento on Sunday. They were making progress Monday until they reached the Rio Vista Bridge and began swimming in circles.

Scientists theorized the whales began circling because vibrations from traffic upset them. The pair could not be coaxed forward even when the drawbridge was raised to halt the flow of vehicles.

Scientists have been watching the two closely because their route includes sloughs leading to muddy deltas where the whales could become lost and trapped.

The pair also faces a couple more highway bridges between Rio Vista and San Francisco Bay, including the Golden Gate.

Federal officials have authorized researchers to fire darts carrying a satellite tracking device beneath the mother’s fin to monitor her location, but two days of gusty winds and choppy waters have delayed the tagging.


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Ed Attanasio is a writer for BrooWaha. For more information, visit the writer's website.
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