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Migrating gray whale hangs out in Marina del Rey channel [Updated]

June 8, 2009 |  2:36 pm


Whale map  A California gray whale on its way to Alaska has chosen a channel in Marina del Rey as a rest stop, and marine officials are warning boaters to be extra cautious.

The whale, estimated to be more than 20 feet long, has been swimming and diving in the channel for almost a week now, said Peter Wallerstein, a spokesman for Marine Animal Rescue.

“It’s looking healthy, it’s swimming and diving,” he said.

Although the whale has made its way into the open sea in recent days, it keeps returning to the channel, Wallerstein said.

California gray whales can grow up to 46 feet long and weigh up to 40 tons. Each winter they make their way south to the warm waters off Baja California. From February to May, they migrate to northern Alaska.

“This one is probably a straggler,” Wallerstein said. “Some just take a little longer [to migrate] than others.”

Gray whales are attracted to shallow waters, where they rub the barnacles off their bellies and feed on small crustaceans found in the bottom sediments.

“Unfotunately, this whale chose the channel,” Wallerstein said.

Wallerstein and volunteers with Marine Animal Rescue are tracking the wayward whale's health while it remains channel-bound.

“My only concern right now are the boaters,” Wallerstein said.

Eleven years ago, a gray whale dubbed J.J. was rescued from the channel. Wallerstein said there were no plans to lure the current whale out from his resting spot.

“We don’t want to alter its natural instinct,” Wallerstein said. “And that’s what it’s doing. It’s exploring, resting, and eating.”

[Updated at 4:50 p.m.: Blanca Wilterdink was on her regular walk Friday along the Marina del Rey channel when a stranger stopped and asked her if she had heard about the whale.

"A what? A whale?" Wilterdink said. "I thought ‘this lady must be mistaken.' "

She saw something in the water but wasn’t sure what. So she called her husband, who raced over on his bike with a pair of binoculars. Sure enough, it was a 20-foot long grey whale swimming playfully around the Marina del Rey breakwater.

"It was such a beauty," she said.]

-- Ruben Vives

Photo: Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times