SAN DIEGO (April 2, 1998 ) - J.J., the California gray whale released off Point Loma Tuesday morning, appears to be thriving in the waters off San Diego, Hubbs-Sea World Research Institute (HSWRI) scientists reported late today.
It was also reported that J.J.s two satellite tracking transmitters fell off at sea, but both have been recovered.
The first transmitter package was detached near Coronado sometime Wednesday and the second unit was recovered at a separate location south of San Diego late Thursday afternoon. Pam Yochem, D.V.M. and senior research biologist at HSWRI, said both transmitter packages were designed to break away from J.J. if subjected to pressure. Even a relatively simple action, such as foraging for food on the ocean bottom and brushing the packages against the sand, could have caused the detachment. While one of the packages was recovered undamaged, the second showed scratches and splintering consistent with scraping against the ocean floor.
Despite the loss the transmitters, it is still possible to identify J.J. visually, Yochem said. The calf has a thin red, white and blue streamer identification tag that can been seen from boats and aerial observation. Yochem also said J.J. has distinctive patterns of gray, white and black on her body. The markings, which are as individual as fingerprints, allow researchers to identify and track gray whales.
The HSWRI team had anticipated eventually losing the transmitters although they had hoped to track J.J. for up to 18 months, the expected life of the batteries.
"We placed the transmitter units on her dorsal ridge and near her blowhole, and attached them with shallow anchors. J.J. had less than 3 inches of blubber in the area and we didnt want to do anything more invasive," Yochem said.
Scientists from HSWRI and Moss Landing Marine Lab spent 48 hours aboard the vessel Megalodon tracking J.J.s progress after her release from the Coast Guard Cutter Conifer four miles west of Point Loma Tuesday. J.J. immediately disappeared but was located a short time later by visual sightings and signals transmitted to an orbiting satellite.
The scientists reported J.J. had been demonstrating natural and anticipated behaviors following her release, including diving, vocalization and spyhopping, or breaking the waters surface to look around at her new surroundings.
In the past few days scientists reported they were delighted with the wealth of information collected from J.J. during her rehabilitation and following her release. Yochem said scientists achieved the first goal of the tracking study -- to monitor J.J.s behavior during the first critical hours and days following her release.
J.J. was brought to SeaWorld Jan. 11, 1997 after she was found beached and comatose in the Marina Del Rey area of Los Angeles. A rescue team drove her to Sea World where she was revived by Sea Worlds veterinary and animal care team. As she regained strength she was growing at a rate of up to three pounds an hour. At the time of her release J.J. had bulked up to 19,000 pounds and measured 31 feet.
Since her release, J.J. has been swimming strongly and covered more than 20 miles in her first 30 hours at sea. She swam steadily at two to three knots, taking several breaths at the surface between one to six minute dives, a pattern typical for young gray whales. She has remained in relatively shallow water so far and is successfully avoiding obstacles such as boats and piers.
"She is behaving exactly the way youd expect for a young animal unfamiliar with her surroundings," said HSWRI Senior Research Biologist Ann Bowles, Ph.D.
In cooperation with Orincon, Inc. in San Diego, the Megalodon researchers laid out a trail of listening devices called sonobouys along J.J.s path. The buoys relayed J.J.s vocalizations moans and pulses normally associated with migrating gray whales. "The pulses might be used for navigation," said Bowles.
"Vessels should stay away from her to make it easier for her to orient herself and to acoustically explore her surroundings," Bowles said.
"No free swimming whale should be approached closer than 100 yards," said Joe Cordaro, southwest region stranding coordinator of the National Marine Fisheries Service. "To do so could be considered harassment under the Marine Mammal Protection Act."
Most recent observations place J.J. south of her release site at San Diegos Pt. Loma.
"Nobody knows how this is going to turn out and J.J. still has a lot of challenges ahead of her," said Yochem. "But based on what Ive seen the past couple of days, Im optimistic."
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