Lost Whale Finds Captive Audience

Misguided migrator circles Embarcadero basin for hours

A misguided gray whale is still prowling the waters of San Diego Bay, drawing crowds of delighted onlookers both ashore and afloat.

Now in its third day  off-course of its species' migratory pattern from the Gulf of California to the Aleutian Islands, the 30-foot whale spent much of Wednesday turning in circles, breaking the water's surface every few minutes, off the Embarcadero basin.

"Pretty exciting, pretty exciting stuff," said Clairemont resident Syd Marshal as he squinted out into the bay from a vantage point near the Star of India's dockside berth. "I just moved to San Diego less than a year ago, and when we saw it on the news we just came down here."

Maritime experts surmise that the whale is a juvenile, perhaps a year or two old, that took a wrong turn to the east, past Point Loma into the bay, where it became an instant sensation by Tuesday afternoon.

Crew members aboard America, a whale-watching yacht, tracked the wayward cetacean late into Tuesday evening as it seemed to be heading back to the ocean between North Island and Point Loma.

But overnight, it reversed course and was spotted shortly after daylight between the San Diego Maritime Museum and B Street Pier.

At one point it passed within 200 feet of the Star of India.

"Everybody got to see a whale even before they got on the boat to go whale-watching today," said America crew member Warren Allen. "So that's pretty amazing that it came up so close ...

"But it should find its way out," Allen added. "Whales have come into the bay before and found their way out again without any stress."

Also among the whale-watchers on the Embarcadero was 13-year-old Kristin Hearn of Lake City, CO, who was visiting San Diego with her mother and sister.

"I watch the Animal Planet a lot and they say whales usually stay with their group and don't leave them," she said. "But sometimes they get lost and they usually eat, like, plankton, so I don't know if he's looking for food here."

But at this early stage of its detour,  hunger pangs may be less of an immediate concern than the stress and danger of vessels venturing too close.

Around mid-day Wednesday, a power vessel traveling an estimated 25 knots  passed well within 100 feet of the whale before its engine was shut down -- the distance of separation requested by the National Marine Fisheries Service  (NNFS), Coast Guard and San Diego Harbor Police, which are monitoring the situation.

Joe Cordero, a marine biologist with the NMFS, said  if the whale gets stranded in shallow waters, efforts would be made to harness and tow it to deeper water -- assuming it's still in good health.

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