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Gray whale 'straggler' leaves Dana Point Harbor after a day

May 11, 2010 |  1:01 pm

A lethargic, emaciated gray whale that wandered into Dana Point Harbor on Monday has made its way back to deep water, to the relief of boaters and marine biologists.

The whale, about 35 to 40 feet long and estimated to weigh about 30 tons, was spotted in the harbor just before noon Monday.

The Harbor Patrol tried to startle it back out to sea with noisy boat maneuvers; Tim Sullivan, a marine biologist at the Ocean Institute in Dana Point, said he banged pieces of galvanized pipe together underwater.

“The intent was to annoy him enough to get him to move away from the sound, but he was not annoyable,” Sullivan said. “He just moved up and down the harbor very slowly.”

Sullivan said the whale appeared old and tired and close to death, and could have been as old as 60 years.

It swam out of the harbor Tuesday morning toward Doheny Beach, where it was last spotted.

About 10,000 gray whales have been making their annual migration from the warm waters of Baja California, where they spend the winter, to their feeding grounds in Alaska and the Arctic.

“We don’t expect to see northbound gray whales after the end of April,” Sullivan said. “This is a little late. This is a straggler.”

Sullivan said whales wander into the harbor about once a year, but usually they are infants that lose their way. Whales in the harbor are a danger to boats, and boats are a danger to whales.

“We’re hoping to keep it out of the harbor, so if it does die, it falls down and becomes part of the food chain in the ocean,” he said.

-- Christopher Goffard

Photo: KTLA