There is something about whales. For days people in northern California were praying for a pair of humpbacked whales to make their way back to the the ocean. Finally on Sunday they began to slowly travel to the safety of deeper waters. What these Californians didn’t realize is that there was one more stranded whale, although it was a different breed of whale. This time it was a Bostonian Moob-Front, Car-Bridge-Diving Whale. This whale is stranded in the US Senate and much of the country is praying that someone finds a way to lead him back to retirement.
Wayward humpback whales begin move downstream San Jose Mercury News The stranded mother-calf pair of humpback whales who’ve captured the attention of the world suddenly began swimming from Sacramento toward the sea Sunday. But their abrupt departure at 2:30 p.m. from a freshwater basin, prompted by the noise of tugboats, cast the whales into new danger. The humpbacks, suffering from propeller wounds and plodding along at 5 to 6 mph, had to travel through the Sacramento Delta and more than 75 miles before they reached saltwater salvation. By 9 p.m., the whales had traveled 20 miles southwest from the Port of Sacramento, where they had spent the weekend lounging lazily about, according to the dozens of scientists and wildlife experts monitoring the whales’ every move. Earlier in the evening, the 40-ton whale and her more than 20-ton calf had squeezed past the Sanko Jupiter – a 581-foot-long vessel carrying dry fertilizer. “We’re just following them,” said Carrie Wilson, associate marine biologist with the California Department of Fish and Game. “We’re just hoping that they keep going.” But the waterway ahead was the most treacherous, said Brian Gorman, spokesman with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “As long as they’re in the ship channel, there’s only one way to go. When they’re in the Delta, there are a lot of opportunities for blind alleyways and wrong turns.” Wild animals are never predictable, experts have warned, ever since the whales became stranded in the Sacramento deep-water basin after a sighting more than a week ago. And they were right. While a team of local, state and federal officials spent the weekend discussing a new rescue plan for Tuesday – a shift from using soothing recorded whale sounds to pounding steel pipes with hammers under water – the whales suddenly made a move on their own. “The original plan was to let the whales chill over the weekend and continue to play underwater sounds,” before starting “the more aggressive herding operation where we would be banging on pipes Tuesday morning,” Gorman said. But Plan B was quickly scrapped when tugboats heading out of the turning basin to assist the berthing of the Sanko Jupiter apparently made the whales’ bathing pool uncomfortable. Sunday night, a flotilla of nine vessels was trailing the whales to deter them from an about-face. Joseph Cordaro, wildlife biologist with the National Marine Fisheries Service, who is part of the whale-watching operation, said what the whales would do is anybody’s guess. “Once darkness falls, we don’t really know where the whales are,” he said. Cordaro said if the whales double-backed, the boats would try to “block off the retreat so they don’t swim back north.” “That’s the hardest part of herding at nighttime,” he said. “You have to stop and hope they don’t backtrack. That’s the risk of any operation like this.” Cordaro said if the whales can’t be found today in daylight, a helicopter or plane will be sent up to find them. To make it to the safer waters of the Golden Gate, they will have to avoid commercial vessels, recreational boats and a confusing set of tributaries. If the journey lasts longer than their fat reserves, they could become stranded again, or worse, beached. Marine biologists involved with the rescue effort say the whales’ predicament is unprecedented. Never before have a mother and calf managed to get themselves so far from the sea. And their hope for return is further dampened by the boat propeller wounds they’ve suffered – injuries that are not healing properly absent the effects of saltwater, according to a veterinarian who has been monitoring the wounds. Beyond using sound, Wilson said, there are few contingency plans now being discussed for the whales, whose massive size alone limits the options. Rescuers also must avoid overly aggressive tactics. “You want to minimize confusion and stress – they’re already confused and stressed enough,” Gorman said. “With an animal caught where it’s never been before, you have to be gentle and enticing and not come on like gang busters.” The greater family of humpback whales’ desperate fight for survival drives the rescuers. The number of humpbacks off the California-Mexico coast has dwindled to 6,000 at the hands of whalers over the past century. The trapped whales – with the added poignancy of a breeding mother and her calf – have drawn hundreds of people to the levee that runs alongside the port, with scores more appearing Sunday morning clutching umbrellas, cameras and coolers. “This is a great opportunity for the public to see them,” said Rita Haughin of Citrus Heights, who came with her husband and children. “But we’re all hoping they make it back.” Responding to expressions such as these, Wilson fears the expectations and affection may be growing too quickly – setting the public up for a crushing blow should the whales – nicknamed Delta and Dawn by Lt. Gov. John Garamendi – fail to reach the sea. “We don’t want people to be too overly optimistic,” she said. “We’re trying to do everything possible, but ultimately, it’s up to the animals.”