For those following the saga of the 45-foot-long, 60 – 80,000 pound gray whale refusing to leave the Klamath River, where she’s been hanging out in full view of sightseers and other whale-wishers gawking from a Highway 101 bridge — looks like no new bright ideas have emerged to shoo her away. The latest attempt, yesterday — blasting sounds of killer whales, her No. 1 predator — was a no-go. From the Eureka Times-Standard today:

After the latest attempt to get the whale to leave the river failed, scientists are taking a wait-and-see approach to the situation, said Sarah Wilkin, stranding coordinator with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association. They will continue to monitor the whale, and attempts to intervene have been stopped, she said.

”We’ll just kind of take it day by day,” Wilkin said.

Klamath whale, July 5 (Photo: Linda Tanner, Flickr)

The whale was initially accompanied upstream by her calf, who has not been seen since Saturday and seems to have cut the cord for good. Stranding Coordinator Wilkin told the Times-Standard, “In the days before it left, it started spending time away from the mom and it seemed like that time was increasing up until the point where it just left entirely. Once weaning is done, the moms and calves don’t hang out socially.”

On Tuesday, KQED News intern Nick Fountain talked to Dave Hillemeier, the Fisheries Program Manager of the Yurok Tribe, about the unsuccessful efforts made last weekend to try to scare the whale downstream.

“On Sunday we had a coordinated effort between multiple agencies,” Hillemeir said, “including the National Marine Fisheries Service, Humboldt State University, Del Norte County Sheriff’s department, California Department of Fish and Game, the Yurok tribe. Del Norte County actually had a fire boat down here.

“We started approaching the whale with pipes hanging over the boats, banging on the pipes… It was not all that successful. So we’d try various tactics of hazing to try to make the whale believe it wasn’t the best place to be, where we’d have various boats approach her… We did that for most of the day…but she just didn’t seem to be affected by it that much.”

Dave Hillemeir on efforts to scare the whale downstream

For a thorough account of the whale tale, today’s Whales. In a River. in the North Coast Journal is quite good. A few enlightening excerpts:

Scientists wanted to chase the whales back to the ocean for a number of reasons. Water levels would be dropping as the summer progressed — the river could get shallow enough to prevent the whales’ exit. As well, the toxic algal bloom that plagues the river each summer and fall might pose a threat to the whales’ health. And while the whales could tolerate fresh water, any prolonged duration in it was bad for their skin and also could cause internal issues. But the biggest health worry was food — it was scarce in the river, and the baby appeared to be losing weight.
Dawn Goley, a professor of zoology at HSU, said the female whale has what appear to be killer whale rake marks on her. But in a phone interview Monday, Goley, NOAA marine mammal biologist Monica DeAngelis, and Sarah Wilkin, NOAA’s marine mammal stranding coordinator for California, all were reluctant to guess what had caused these whales to swim into the river. Whales are known to go into the mouths of rivers for other reasons, particularly in search of rich feeding areas. Generally, they don’t linger this long. “There are a lot of theories,” DeAngelis said.
“To be quite frank, I don’t think its chance of survival is going to be too great,” he said. “It had been up in the river for a month. And it’s an anomaly to see these large whales in a river for that long. There’s not enough food, and the female probably wasn’t nursing it as much as it should.”

Read the full article

Some video of the whale and her calf in this KTVU report. And on YouTube:

Saga of the Klamath’s Stranded Gray Whale; Video 28 July,2011Jon Brooks

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