SAN DIEGO (March 18, 1998) - The worlds most famous
gray whale will go home March 26.
Officials of Anheuser-Busch, SeaWorld San Diego and a variety of agencies today announced details of the plan to release J.J. back into the Pacific Ocean after her 14-month rehabilitation. She will be the largest animal ever released into the wild.
August A. Busch III, chairman and president of the Anheuser-Busch Cos. Inc., parent company to SeaWorld, led the announcement. "This marks the first time that an orphaned gray whale has been hand-raised by humans and released back into the wild," Busch said. "It is a real tribute to the men and women at SeaWorld who have dedicated themselves to this effort - and reflects our companys century-long heritage of environmental leadership."
J.J. was near death when she was rescued near Marina del Rey, Calif., Jan. 11, 1997 and brought to SeaWorld. Since then, scores of veterinarians, animal-care specialists, research scientists and animal trainers have devoted themselves to J.J.s recovery and preparation for release.
"On January 11, 1997, a baby gray whale was dying on a beach," Busch said. "On March 26, 1998, that same whale will be returned to the ocean - healthy and 10 tons heavier."
Jim Antrim, SeaWorld San Diegos general curator, said the release is a massive and unprecedented effort. During the whales stay at SeaWorld, she has been weaned to solid food; knows to eat off the bottom of her pool, similar to the way the whales eat off the bottom of the ocean, and 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 thats necessary to deal with life in the wild," Antrim said. "But even so, there are no guarantees."
In addition to SeaWorld, the release will involve a number of organizations:
Antrim said the effort will begin before dawn on March 26, when air surveillance will confirm the northward migration of gray whales off the San Diego coast. Assuming whales are in the area, and weather conditions permit, the release operation will begin. J.J. will be moved to the Navy Pier at 32nd street in an animal transport unit secured to a flatbed trailer.The U.S. Coast Guard will provide a 180-foot buoy tender, the Conifer, to transport J.J. out to sea, and other vessels to escort the cutter and patrol the safety zone around the whale.
The U.S. Navy is providing a pier at Naval Station San Diego for loading J.J. on the Conifer.
San Diego Police will lead the ground transport from SeaWorld to the Naval Station.
Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute will equip J.J. with satellite transmitters and track her progress as she migrates.
The 12-mile route to the pier may take up to an hour, Antrim says. J.J. is scheduled to arrive at the pier at 8 a.m., and a 120-ton crane will move the whale from the animal transport container to the deck of the Conifer. The Coast Guard cutter will proceed to an area several miles off Pt. Loma for the actual release. Antrim estimates the entire transport should take about four to six hours.
Once she is release 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 attached by predators, NMFS will decide whether to intervene or attempt a rescue. Cordaro will be aboard the Conifer to monitor the entire event.
All of the officials emphasized the need to give J.J. space and avoid any interference in her attempt to join other migrating gray whales. Access by media and the public will be restricted and enforced by authorities. The Coast Guard and Navy will coordinate access for media at the pier and on the boats involved in the release.
Media may contact CWO Jerry Snyder of the U.S. Coast Guard at (310) 732-7351 and Sam Samuelson, Naval Public Affairs Officer, at (619) 556-7359 to arrange credentials.
SeaWorld guests will have just four more days to see J.J.
in her 1.7-million gallon pool before she is moved to a holding pool away
from public view to prepare for the release. The live camera in J.J.s
pool can be viewed through Sunday.
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All Rights Reserved.