Whales Lost in Calif. River Making Progress Again Toward Pacific

By: Marcus Wohlsen AP
By: Marcus Wohlsen AP

Two whales lost between the Sacramento River and San Francisco Bay moved several miles closer to the Pacific on Tuesday, nearing the third of four bridges standing between the pair and their ocean home.

Biologists said the saltier water where the mother humpback whale and her calf have been circling has helped reverse some of the health problems caused by long exposure to fresh water.

Lesions that had formed on the humpbacks' skin over the weekend
appeared to be sloughing off, California Department of Fish and Game deputy director Bernadette Fees said. Scientists also reported that a coating of algae that was clinging to the mother farther upriver had fallen away.

Veterinarians did not get a good glimpse Monday of wounds that had been suffered by both whales and could not say whether those had started to heal, Fees said. Antibiotics were injected into the whales on Saturday to try to slow the damage from the gashes, likely from a boat's keel.

The two whales were sighted Tuesday near the Carquinez Bridge, less than 35 miles from the Pacific, a day after halting at another
busy bridge several miles east. They were first spotted May 13 and
got as far as 90 miles inland to the Port of Sacramento before
turning around.

Memorial Day sightseers swarmed the waterfront to catch a glimpse Monday, while the U.S. Coast Guard worked to maintain a 500-yard safety zone around the whales.

About 100 boats carrying would-be whale watchers surrounded the
pair as news of their location traveled. Coast Guard crews hauled
several swimmers out of the water as they tried to approach the
whales, Lt. Larry Curran said.

Despite the pair's health problems, officials did not plan to take any action to prod them toward the Golden Gate Bridge. If the duo continued to advance, rescue boats would try to block the entrances to the Napa River and Petaluma River along the northern edge of San Francisco Bay.

"It's all up to the whales at the end of the day," said Jim Oswald, spokesman for the Marine Mammal Center, a nonprofit wildlife group helping coordinate the rescue.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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