Whales surface at Port of Sacramento | TheUnion.com

Whales surface at Port of Sacramento

SACRAMENTO (AP) ” Worried about the health of a pair of humpback whales, marine experts on Wednesday were trying to determine their condition after a 90-mile river journey from San Francisco Bay to the outskirts of Sacramento.

“We’re going to do a health assessment of the animals, probably visually,” said Connie Barclay, a spokeswoman with the National Marine Fisheries Service. “We may get a clue as to why they are there.”

The whales, believed to be a mother and her calf, surfaced Wednesday morning at the Port of Sacramento, the terminus of a deep-water shipping channel that runs parallel to the Sacramento River.

Shipping and small boat traffic were halted in the canal, which is 30 feet deep and 200 feet wide. One freighter remained docked at the port, known primarily as an expert terminal for California rice.

The next ship was not expected to dock for a week, on May 23, which gives authorities some time to figure out how to escort the whales out of the channel and back to the Pacific, said Teresa Bledsoe, administrative clerk at the Port of Sacramento.

Biologists’ main concern is an object wrapped around the larger whale, perhaps fishing gear. When it surfaced Wednesday, onlookers could see that it was entangled in a bright yellow chord.

Researchers have been unable to get close enough to determine what action, if any, they might take. The muddy waters of the Sacramento River and the shipping canal, cloudy from spring runoff, make the task more difficult.

Biologists were considering options for luring the humpbacks down the channel, back to the Sacramento River and eventually out to San Francisco Bay.

“We’re going to see what we can do, if anything, to get them back out to the ocean,” Barclay said.

The whales were first spotted Sunday in the lower Sacramento River, drawing hundreds of onlookers the following day when they surfaced repeatedly near the delta towns of Isleton and Rio Vista.

Since then, the U.S. Coast Guard has been broadcasting the position of the whales, requiring that recreational boaters stay at least 100 yards away from them, said spokeswoman Lt. Amy Marrs.

It’s unusual for whales to reach so far into the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, but it has happened before. In 1985, a humpback nicknamed Humphrey was escorted back to sea after swimming in the delta for nearly a month.

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