DANA POINT (CBSLA.com) – A baby gray whale is back out to sea after hanging out in Dana Point Harbor for several hours Tuesday.
The marine mammal was spotted in the harbor around 8 a.m., left then returned at about 11 a.m.
“It’s not necessarily stuck. It can swim around the harbor, but it doesn’t want to leave,” Orange County sheriff’s Lt. Lane Lagaret said.
The 20-foot juvenile whale came very close to the shoreline and swam right underneath kayakers and paddleboarders at times.
“She came up underneath my board and knocked me off. She just kept circling around and literally would almost climb up on the rocks,” said Mary Ann Remer, who worked for three hours along with other paddleboarders, the harbor patrol, deputies and a whale-watching business to get the mammal back out to sea.
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But it did not go as planned. They banged on their boards and used hoses to move her along. But she kept coming back.
“We all turned around and followed her back in. At that point, harbor patrol, sheriffs, everybody was working really hard to corner her,” Remer recalled.
Experts said the whale did not appear to be in distress but clearly lost, and that gray whale usually hang out further north this time of year.
“There’s only so much you can do when a whale comes into the harbor,” said Sgt. John Hollenbeck of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department. “It happens once or twice a year.”
Finally just before 2:30 p.m., the whale had safely made it out of the harbor.
Justin Greenman, assistant stranding coordinator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said the whale “looks really skinny.” Barnacles on its top side and other signs led experts “to believe its health is compromised,” he said.
It’s uncommon for gray whales to be seen so south this time of the year, Greenman said. Gray whales typically pass through from the south, where they breed, to the north, where they feed, he added.
“It may be that this guy is trying to make his way north,” Greenman said, adding that the whale “might be a straggler who hung out in Mexico too long.”
On Monday, a juvenile gray whale drew hundreds of people to the Agua Hedionda Lagoon in Carlsbad. SeaWorld researchers told the San Diego Union-Tribune that the whale was likely resting amid its annual journey north from Baja California.