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May-26-2007 08:14printcomments

Rescuers Worried Wayward Whales Health is Rapidly Deteriorating

An intense herding operation is planned for Tuesday.

whale tail slap
The calf displaying the behavior known as tailslapping or lobtailing, which it has done periodically over the past three days.
Photo by Sarah Wilkin, NOAA/NMFS

(RIO VISTA, Calif.) - Scientists were encouraged by the response of the two wayward whales to an experiment Friday morning involving streams of water projected from a fire boat.

The whales, a mother and her calf, have been meandering through the Sacramento Delta since May 13th, and scientists have become increasingly concerned about their health.

Both have suspected boat strike injuries.

Dr. Frances Gulland, the lead veterinarian of the rescue operation, reported that the whales seemed to be deterred by the streams of water from a Vallejo Fire Department boat.

The method was tested a total of five times before researchers stopped the effort to prevent the whales from becoming accustomed to the activity.

An intense herding operation is planned for Tuesday, which will incorporate this new approach.

Scientists plan to use 3-5 fire boats from local agencies and 20 other vessels to urge the whales out to the Pacific.

The operation will not be conducted until Tuesday due to concerns about safety to the public and the whales from the large number of boats that will be on the water over the Memorial Day weekend.

The 500-yard safety zone around the whales will still be strictly enforced over the holiday weekend. Both civil and criminal penalties may be assessed.

Fines for violations can reach up to $20,000 under the Marine Mammal Protection Act and $50,000 under the Endangered Species Act.

On Saturday, veterinarians and marine biologists will continue to conduct health assessment activities on the whales, which may involve sampling the skin and breath.

The team is also continuing to pursue the formulations and delivery methods for administering antibiotics to the whales.

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Sean Flynn was a photojournalist in Vietnam, taken captive in 1970 in Cambodia and never seen again.

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