Wandering whales take a turn for the better

Times Staff Writer

Two humpback whales that swam up the Sacramento River traveled about 24 miles toward their ocean home before suddenly stopping near a busy bridge, authorities said Monday.

“We don’t know what got them moving or what made them stop,” said Bernadette Fees, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Fish and Game. “But we’re thrilled with their progress.... They’re about two-thirds of the way home.”

Fees said the whales started moving downriver about 2 p.m. Sunday and halted their journey about 11 a.m. Monday near the Benicia-Martinez Bridge, about 35 miles from the Pacific.


She said onlookers, many in boats, tried to monitor the whales’ progress.

Some sightseers moved too close and had to be escorted away by the Coast Guard. Authorities were enforcing a 500-yard safety zone around the whales.

“We recognize how exciting this is, but their safety is paramount,” Fees said. “We need to exercise caution.”

Scientists were optimistic about the whales’ chances of survival after they moved closer to the sea and into more open and brackish water, which is expected to help heal their wounds and improve their health.

The mother whale and her calf were spotted in the river May 13 and journeyed more than 90 miles inland before turning around.

Both whales have gashes, which experts say are the result of colliding with a boat. They also have developed skin lesions and appeared to have suffered from their long exposure to fresh water.

Rescuers were hoping late Monday to administer a second dose of antibiotics to the whales to protect them from infections.