Biologists Monitor Whale Lost In San Diego Harbor - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Biologists Monitor Whale Lost In San Diego Harbor

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Federal marine authorities are hoping that the 30-foot gray whale now making a rare appearance in San Diego Bay -- possibly in a search for food -- will eventually find its own way back into open waters.

The U.S. Coast Guard began getting reports about a whale in the harbor about 1 p.m. Tuesday, said Lt. Josh Nelson, a USCG public information officer.

"It's just hanging out and swimming around," Nelson said.

The federal maritime agency notified U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service personnel in Long Beach, who requested a follow-up call if the sea mammal doesn't return to the ocean within a few days, according to Nelson.

"We just want to stay away from it, and we hope that boaters keep their distance, too," he said.

Federal guidelines suggest boaters keep at least 100 yards away and aircraft to get no lower than 1,000 feet. As of 9 a.m. today, boaters appeared to be respecting the large cetacean, said Coast Guard Petty Officer Henry Dunphy.

According to Joe Cordero, a marine biologist with the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service, the whale probably came into the bay looking for something to eat. He estimates the whale is most likely a year old and hasn't been on its own very long.

"We pretty much leave the animal alone for as long as it takes," Cordero said. "In other cases elsewhere in the past, we've learned that herding them away really isn't a good idea."

According to Cordero, herding the whales stresses them out and weakens their ability to migrate.

Gray whales spend summers off Alaska, then migrate south to the protected lagoons of Baja California, where their calves are born during winter months. The trip covers about 10,000 to 12,000 miles.

Usually around the end of February, the last remaining ones coming south mix with some coming north, so it's hard to say which way the whale in San Diego's harbor was headed, Cordero said.

Another 30-foot gray whale has been loitering in Santa Barbara Harbor since early last week. The Los Angeles Times reported that the whale looked thin and weak.

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