After spending nearly seven weeks in the Klamath River in northern California, 50 miles south of the Oregon border, a gray whale died early Tuesday morning. According to the Associated Press via SFGate, the 45-foot whale and her six-month-old calf appeared in the river in late June. No one knows why they ended up in fresh water on their journey north from birthing grounds in Baja California; scientists speculate that the pair may have ventured inland after being driven by killer whales.
Here’s a video of both whales in June:
On July 23, the calf swam back out to sea; this would have been just about the time it was ready to wean and go off on its own. Here’s the calf in a photo by goingslo:
But the female whale remained, despite attempts (including playing recordings of killer whales) to draw her out to the mouth of the river, says CNN.
This video shows the two whales shortly before the calf swam back to sea:
Big crowds came to see the whale, with some people serenading her with the flute or violin, notes the Associated Press via SFGate:
Instead it remained, sometimes feeding on invasive species of clams and snails in the mud of the river bottom, shooting great geysers of air and water out of her blowhole, and spending much of its time within sight of people who lined the U.S. Highway 101 bridge for the unusual show.
Native American Yurok tribal Chairman Thomas O’Rourke, Sr. noted that the crowds were welcome by all: In Del Norte County, the unemployment rate was 13.8 percent in June.
Another photo by goingslo:
Then on Monday afternoon, the whale beached herself on a sandbar after “behaving oddly,” says Jim Milbury of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Rescuers attempted to help her back into the water, but she died around 4:00 am on Tuesday. Sarah Wilkin, a coordinator for the NOAA, said the whale did not appear to have starved to death. The Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito will perform a necropsy to determine her cause of death.
The whale was buried near where she died in a ceremony with songs and prayers, said O’Rourke:
“To have such a large animal in our presence for so long was a great gift, but now nature has taken its course…
“The whale is another miracle of our maker.”
“We tried to put her away with respect. The whale became a part of this town.”
O’Rourke said he had never seen a whale so far about the river and suggested that the whale “might have been showing its calf a place it had known in its youth.” I’m left wondering: Did the female whale know she wasn’t going to make it, and therefore stayed in the river? Is her calf doing all right out on its own?
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Photos by goingslo
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