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Beached baby whales confuse scientists

whale April 7, 1997
Web posted at: 11:42 p.m. EDT (0342 GMT)

From Correspondent Greg LaMotte

SAN DIEGO (CNN) -- Marine biologists are puzzled by the unusual beaching of live gray whales during the mammals' annual winter migration from Alaska to Mexico.

Although young whales have a high mortality rate, scientists say it is rare to see live beachings, and they are somewhat confused about how best to handle them.

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"Usually we got one to two dead baby gray whales washing up on the beaches per year," said wildlife biologist Joe Cordaro, "and so far this year we've had five baby gray whales wash up on the beach, four of those being alive. It's never happened before."


It's believed there are about 24,000 gray whales in the Pacific Ocean, producing about a thousand calves per year. Typically, about a third of the calves die.

One theory about the beachings is that the whales are simply migrating closer to land.

"It would stand to reason that if you're migrating closer to shore that there would be a good chance you would end up on the beach," said veterinarian Tom Reidarson.

At first, experts ordered the whales be left alone so nature could take its course, but a public outcry ensued from whale lovers. Thereafter, attempts were made to rescue the baby whales, but only one has survived.


Attempts failed to get that baby gray whale, beached in Marina Del Rey near Los Angeles, back out to sea, so the whale was put on a truck and taken to San Diego's Sea World for care.

That was back in January. Now the whale, nicknamed J.J., appears to be well on her way back to health. She's being fed a formula consisting of ground fish and other nutrients.

J.J. is the delight of visitors, at least until she can be released during the 1998 migration. Meanwhile, with the whale population reaching an all-time high, scientists say more beachings -- and limited facilities to care for them -- could mean residents may have to accept natural selection at work.


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