Whale Discovers Seaplane Lagoon

Jim Grigg    A humpback whale some locals have taken to calling “Aloha” has been entertaining crowds of whale watchers at Alameda Point’s Seaplane Lagoon over the past week. Marine mammal scientists performed a biopsy to determine its health and gender.

Visitors to Alameda Point have been surprised to find a whale swimming in Seaplane Lagoon. The animal was first spotted on May 26, according to the Sausalito-based Marine Mammal Center. The center began monitoring the whale the next day. Researchers at the center report that the whale is an adult female humpback.

Whales often appear in San Francisco Bay to feed on anchovies. They seldom remain, and scarcely ever swim past Alcatraz Island. The mammal center has studied photos of this whale and fear that it is sick and maybe too weak to return to the open ocean. Experts have noticed that the whale is feeding on fish in the lagoon and think that this man-made cove is the safest place for the humpback to recover. 

They also think that attempting to herd the whale out of the lagoon and into the San Francisco Bay and through the Golden Gate into the Pacific Ocean could further stress the sick animal. 

The center asks that the public not approach or otherwise harass the whale in Seaplane Lagoon. The U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 and later amendments, make it a federal crime to hunt, kill, capture and/or harass any marine mammal.

The Alameda Point Harbor Seal Monitors have kept a careful eye on the whale as well. Its members have observed the whale “most of the time slowly circling with only an occasional breach.” The humpback “suddenly became extremely active” last Saturday, June 1. “It swam all around the lagoon, doing spectacular breaches multiple times.” 

According to the Monitors’ Facebook page, Golden Gate Cetacean Research, which is now merging with the Marine Mammal Center, ran photos of the whale through computer programs “to attempt to match this whale to the North Pacific humpback catalog.” 

There was no match. The center has tracked 70 humpback whales, so this is a new whale, which Golden Gate Cetacean has given the number 71 in its San Francisco Bay catalog. Photos show the whale does not appear to be entangled in anything. However, it is ailing — it appears emaciated and its skin does not look healthy. “We will continue to observe it, thanks to caring people who have been taking photos and video, and sending reports,” the Monitors said. 

The Marine Mammal Center says humpback whales breed in the waters off of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, and then migrate to the Pacific Northwest, where they feed. They make this journey every year between their feeding and breeding sites. Humpbacks typically travel at 5 mph but often average only 1 mph, as they rest and socialize along the way. 

In 1973 Lloyd Smalley, Pat Arrigoni and Paul Maxwell established the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito as a private, nonprofit organization for the purpose of rescuing, rehabilitating and releasing marine mammals who are injured, ill or abandoned. Since then the center has rescued more than 20,000 marine mammals. 

The center is arguably most famous for the important role it played in twice rescuing another humpback whale, affectionately named Humphrey. This whale swam into San Francisco Bay in 1985 and 1990. Both “intrusions” resulted in dramatic rescues by the center, United States Coast Guard and hundreds of volunteers.

There are a number of ways to help support the Marine Mammal Center, visit www.marinemammalcenter.org to learn more. 

 

Betty Young    Officials with the Marine Mammal Center of Sausalito investigate the whale. They determined the whale to be a malnourished female and the overall condition of the animal has scientists concerned.