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Humphrey the Errant Whale Now Wired for Sound

Times Staff Writer

A woman with a crossbow shot Humphrey the humpback whale twice in the blubber Saturday, implanting two homing devices that could help in herding the animal to salt water.

Moving to within 40 feet of the 40-ton whale in a small boat, Jo Guerrero, a student from Moss Landing Marine Laboratory, fired the two radio transmitters into the back of the animal just behind its blowhole.

It was the first time in four tries over the last several weeks that a radio transmitter has been successfully attached to the popular whale. “He doesn’t even feel it,” said Charles Fullerton, regional director of the National Marine Fisheries Service, head of the rescue operation.

The transmitters are designed to send out radio signals each time the giant creature surfaces so that rescuers can keep track of the animal, especially after dark.

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In a massive operation to save the whale, more than 40 U.S. Navy, Army and private vessels will resume herding the whale today toward San Francisco Bay.

The whale took a wrong turn at the Golden Gate Bridge more than three weeks ago, and swam up the Sacramento River to a small slough about 60 miles from the ocean.

Since rescuers drove the whale out of the slough and downstream a week ago, it has visited Rio Vista, Antioch and part of the San Joaquin River. On Saturday, it swam back into the Sacramento River and was spotted much of the day near Pittsburg, more than 35 miles from the ocean.

Earlier efforts to herd Humphrey down-river were halted last Monday after the animal swam 10 miles upstream during the night after a day in which he had been successfully pushed as far as Pittsburg.

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Rescuers hope to prevent him from backtracking again by placing a “sonic barrier” of boats and noise up river from the whale.

The radio transmitters implanted in the whale Saturday are essential to the success of the nighttime part of the operation, since otherwise it is impossible to tell where the animal is.

A second device was attached to the whale after the first landed too low on its back, broadcasting only when the animal came out of the water higher than usual.

Biologists previously had been unsuccessful in making a suction cup transmitter work and then were unable to implant a satellite transmitter using a long pole. A fourth device was scrapped when it did not work.

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Fullerton said at a press conference here Saturday that the whale is showing signs of overexposure to fresh water, which ultimately could be fatal.

Large blisters have formed under its skin, causing it to turn from black to gray. Ultimately, that condition could reduce the whale’s ability to repel salt water if it returns to the sea, he said.


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