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J.J. the gray whale will return to sea

J.J.
J.J.'s going home  
March 23, 1998
Web posted at: 6:10 p.m. EST (2310 GMT)

By Environmental News Network staff

A baby gray whale found stranded and foundering in the surf on a California beach 14 months ago will be released back into the Pacific Ocean this week, according to SeaWorld of California.

J.J. is no longer a baby. She has grown from 1,670 pounds and 13 feet 10 inches long when she was found near death on the shores of Marina del Rey near Los Angeles in January 1997, to 30 feet long and 18,200 pounds. She is too big to remain at the aquarium and will be the largest animal ever released into the wild.

When J.J. arrived at SeaWorld she was comatose and near death. Rescuers had not expected her to survive the 112-mile journey to San Diego from Marina del Rey. She not only beat the odds and survived -- she also thrived.

"On January 11, 1997, a baby gray whale was dying on a beach," said August A. Busch III, chairman and president of the Anheuser-Busch Cos. Inc. "On March 26, 1998, that same whale will be returned to the ocean -- healthy and 10 tons heavier."

During the whale's stay at SeaWorld, she has been weaned to solid food; knows to eat off the bottom of her pool, similar to the way whales eat off the bottom of the ocean; and has been exposed to wild gray whale vocalizations.

"We have done everything we possibly can to prepare J.J. to return to the ocean, and she has all that's necessary to deal with life in the wild," said Jim Antrim, SeaWorld San Diego's general curator. "But even so, there are no guarantees."

"The American Zoo and Aquarium Association believes that the release of J.J. is the appropriate course of action for the continued health and well-being of the whale. SeaWorld has adhered to the highest level of professional standards in their efforts to care for and prepare the whale for the rigors of the wild," said Sydney J. Butler, executive director of AZA. "Realizing that it is impossible to predict what will occur after her release, we support SeaWorld's efforts to condition her for a life in the wild."

A panel of marine biologists and government officials agreed last year that a release date in late March or early April would be most appropriate. Thousands of gray whales begin their 6,000-mile migration from Baja to the Arctic during that window.

According to marine mammal scientists, releasing J.J. in the vicinity of other gray whales will increase the likelihood she will join their migration.

On the morning of the release, a spotter plane will fly south of San Diego looking for other gray whales migrating north. As soon as whales are sighted, J.J. will be loaded into an animal transport unit secured to a flatbed truck and taken to a Naval pier where a 120-ton crane will move her from the truck to the deck of the Conifer, a Coast Guard cutter. The ship will proceed to an area several miles off Point Loma for the actual release. The entire operation is expected to take four to six hours.

Once she is released, J.J. will regain the status of a free-ranging marine mammal, protected by all applicable government regulations, said Joe Cordaro of the National Marine Fisheries Service.

If J.J. becomes stranded again, or is attacked by predators, NMFS will decide whether to intervene or attempt a rescue.

J.J. will be fitted with a monitoring and tracking device so marine scientists can keep a tab on her whereabouts and well being.

Copyright 1998, Environmental News Network, All Rights Reserved


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