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Hundreds Cheer Whale : Humphrey Back at Sea After Detour of 26 Days

Times Staff Writer

The humpback whale that became internationally known as Humphrey during its 26-day journey to the heart of California swam under Golden Gate Bridge on Monday and returned to the Pacific Ocean.

The 40-foot whale swam within several hundred yards of San Francisco’s waterfront--surfacing every few minutes to the cheers of hundreds of people--and then swam under the fog-shrouded bridge at 4:35 p.m.

“He’s under the Golden Gate,” called out Jack Findleton, a Sacramento fishing guide who has coordinated the rescue fleet since the whale was driven from Shag Slough 70 miles inland.

As darkness fell, the flotilla of 20 boats herded the 40-ton mammal out into the Pacific, encouraging it to resume its migration to Hawaii.

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“I think we all want to see him in the ocean,” said Dennis Daniels, an attorney who came down to the Marina to watch the whale travel under the bridge. “But it’s been a pleasure having him here.”

The whale entered San Francisco Bay on Oct. 10 and swam across California to the shallow slough of the Sacramento River, where it was trapped for nearly a week.

During the last several weeks, rescuers had pressed a massive operation to drive the animal from the slough and herd it down the river toward salt water.

Biologists feared that the animal would die if it remained too long in fresh water.

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The most successful day of the rescue was Sunday when Humphrey was lured more than 50 miles toward San Francisco Bay by the tape-recorded sounds of fellow humpbacks feeding. The mammal came within four miles of the Golden Gate before turning around after dark near Angel Island.

The whale began its day Monday at the north end of San Francisco Bay near San Pablo Point, about 11 miles from the Golden Gate.

The flotilla, which included 10 U.S. Navy river patrol boats as well as private vessels, herded the reluctant animal through the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge and toward the ocean.

The recorded feeding noises that had worked so well Sunday were not as effective Monday. So rescue crews resumed pounding on pipes suspended in the water to drive the whale forward.

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Humphrey, who seems to like swimming near people and showing off, again balked at heading into the Raccoon Straits between Angel Island and Tiburon.

Instead the whale chose the much longer route between Alcatraz and San Francisco, leading the rescue fleet past the crowds of cheering spectators.

“Everybody here is thrilled to death,” said Hal Alabaster, a spokesman for the rescue operation at the command post in Benicia. “We even opened a bottle of Champagne. Now we’re going to keep an eye open and make sure he doesn’t come back.”

THE WHALE’S WANDERINGS

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For nearly a month, Humphrey the humpback whale has wandered through the inland waterways of the Sacramento River delta.: 1--Thursday, Oct. 10: The whale is first sighted in San Francisco Bay, apparently having taken a wrong turn during its annual migration from Alaska to Hawaii.

2--Monday, Oct. 14: Humphrey swims up the Sacramento River in the vicinity of Rio Vista, delighting residents and tourists, but confounding marine biologists, who fear he will beach himself and die or be injured by prolonged exposure to fresh water.

3--Saturday, Oct. 15: The whale swims up Shag Slough, a shallow dead-end channel south of Sacramento, further alarming scientists.

4--Thursday, Oct. 24: Marine biologists, using a Japanese technique called oikomi, which involves banging pipes under water, herd the whale south, but he refuses to swim beneath a small bridge across Shag Slough.

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5--Friday, Oct. 25: Herding efforts continue, and Humphrey swims beneath the bridge after debris is cleared from the river bottom.

6--Saturday, Sunday, Oct. 26-27: Whale swims southward as far as Pittsburg, driven by the pipe-banging boats.

7--Monday, Oct. 28: Whale turns back upstream about 10 miles, and the herding efforts are suspended.

8--Thursday, Oct. 31: Humphrey temporarily detours up the San Joaquin River.

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9--Sunday, Nov. 3: Marine biologists try a new method--luring Humphrey downstream by playing tape-recordings of the feeding sounds of other humpback whales. The whale responds by swimming from the San Joaquin River more than 50 miles, to within four miles of the Golden Gate.

10--Monday, Nov. 4: Humphrey swims under the Golden Gate Bridge and out to sea, urged on by scientists again using the oikomi method.


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