GRAY WHALE CALFS EIGHTH MONTH AT SEA WORLD FOCUSES ON WEANING, VOCALIZATIONS SAN DIEGO
(August 8, 1997) As J.J. the gray whale enters her eighth month at Sea World of California, efforts to prepare her for her eventual life in the wild move into high gear. "At this stage of a wild grays life, the calves are being weaned," said Tom Goff, Sea Worlds curator of mammals. J.J.s weaning is a meticulous process which involves scrupulous weighing and measuring of squid and other solid foods. Twice each day, animal care specialists distribute squid and other fish on the floor of J.J.s pool. J.J. scoops the fish into her mouth and uses her baleen to filter out the water and other sediment. To determine J.J.s solid food intake, animal care specialists dive 30 feet to the bottom of the pool and collect the remaining squid. The leftovers are weighed and the results recorded and compared against the original portion. So far, J.J.s solid intake has been modest, but animal care specialists are encouraged by her apparent understanding of the location of the solid food, and of the mechanics of bottom-feeding. According to animal care specialist Kevin Robinson, J.J. shows only mild interest in him and the other animal care divers when they are in the pool to collect her leftovers. "On a typical day, shell come maybe a third of the way across the pool to check out what we are doing. On occasion, shell come as close as an arms distance, but we are glad she doesnt like to come too close," he said. "We need to keep her as wild as possible. If she wanted to sit in our laps and get a rubdown each time we entered her pool, wed have a concern."
Robinson and his fellow divers have another reason to steer clear of the nearly 10,000-lb. gray whale calf. "She is very big big ol body and a big ol tail and I dont want to get hit by that tail as she swishes past." According to Goff, J.J. averages between 5 and 10 pounds of squid per day over the course of a typical week. "Right now, the squid is really a small part of her diet, but it gives her the opportunity to scoop the food off the bottom, as she will eventually do in the ocean." J.J.s growth rate is holding steady and appears to be consistent with what little is known about adult California gray whale growth and development. She continues to gain about 50 pounds and half an inch each day, but this rate of growth is expected to taper off in the next few months. "Her weight will continue to increase, but the rate of growth in length should slow down," said Goff. At 24 feet, J.J. is halfway to the maximum length of a full-grown California gray whale. Also being noted are J.J.s reactions to recorded gray whale sounds played in her pool. According to Dr. Ann Bowles of Hubbs-Sea World Research Center, the calf is responding to "pulse trains," noises made by gray whales which sound like a series of hollow pops. Recorded in the lagoons of Baja, CA, these pulse trains are played at feeding times in an effort to get J.J. to associate the sounds with food.
"She is making this association, and we have a clear response," said
Bowles. "It is hoped that by associating these sounds with food, J.J. will
follow the sounds when she hears them in the open ocean, discover other gray
whales feeding, and feed along with them," she said. "This is very
important to her survival in the wild." As the largest animal ever accepted
into Sea Worlds Beached Animal Rescue & Rehabilitation program, J.J.
continues to command international attention and support. Preliminary plans
call for her to be reintroduced to the wild in early 1998.
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