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Whale takes a rest in channel

Blanca Wilterdink was on her regular walk Friday along the Marina del Rey channel when a stranger stopped and asked if she had heard about the whale.

“A what? A whale?” Wilterdink asked. “I thought, ‘This lady must be mistaken.’ ”

She looked to the water and called her husband, who raced over on his bike with a pair of binoculars. Sure enough, there was a 20-foot-long gray whale swimming playfully around the Marina del Rey breakwater.

“It was such a beauty,” she said.

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For about a week, the whale has been roaming around the main marina channel, going out to sea but then for some reason returning. The whale probably came from the Mexican coast en route to Alaska and picked the channel as a rest stop, said Peter Wallerstein, founder of Marine Animal Rescue.

California gray whales can grow up to 46 feet long and weigh up to 40 tons. Each winter they make their way south to the warm waters off Baja California. From February to May, they migrate to northern Alaska.

“This one is probably a straggler,” Wallerstein said. “Some just take a little longer than others” to migrate.

Gray whales are attracted to shallow waters, where they rub barnacles off their bellies and feed on small crustaceans found in sea-floor sediments.

“Unfortunately, this whale chose the channel,” Wallerstein said.

So far, the whale has encountered no problems from boaters or onlookers. But Wallerstein is concerned that if the whale stays in the main channel, it could be hit by a speeding boat.

Eleven years ago, a sick gray whale dubbed J.J. was rescued from the same channel. Wallerstein said there are no plans yet to lure the current whale out from its resting spot, in part because it seems healthy.

“We don’t want to alter its natural instinct,” Wallerstein said. “And that’s what it’s doing. It’s exploring, resting and eating.”

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For now, residents like the show.

“You’ll see it. You’ll see its tail, blowing out water and showing his little eyeball,” said Marina del Rey resident Sonia Kazarova. “It’s so cute.”

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ruben.vives@latimes.com

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