MARINA DEL REY — Boaters and beach goers are being asked to keep their distance from a California gray whale that has been swimming in and out of the Marina del Rey channel for the last two weeks.
The 25-foot long whale seems to have stopped its migration from Baja to rest before continuing north to Alaska.
California gray whales have one of the longest migrations for whales, totaling up to 14,000 miles round trip, and it is not uncommon for the whales to stop during the journey to rest and feed from the ocean bottom in shallow areas. The length of this whale’s stay, however, is longer than most, said Peter Wallerstein, founder of Marine Animal Rescue.
“It’s abnormal for being there and then leaving, going out a couple of miles and then returning to the main channel there in the marina,” he said.
Some, like Kathy Knight at Ballona Ecosystems Education Project, speculate that the 1- to 2-year-old whale might be recovering from an injury, but the reason for it’s stay is unknown.
Marine Animal Rescue has been working with the U.S. Coast Guard to monitor the whale and keep boaters from coming too close after several near collisions between boaters and kayakers and the whale.
“We have too many boaters, too many citizens going up close to the whale. They can injure the whale, they can get injured,” Wallerstein warned.
Volunteers have been out at the marina asking people to stay away and instead view the whale from the rocks along the shore.
“We’re really encouraging people to see it from the jetty,” Knight said. “We’re especially worried on the weekend when there’s so much [boat] traffic.”
It’s a violation of the Marine Animal Protection Act to come within 100 yards of the whale and Wallerstein said the law will be enforced, with punishments as severe as fines or incarceration.
In an effort to work under the guidelines of the federal government, Marine Animal Rescue has not considered any attempts to herd the whale away from the marina.
“We hope it leaves and continues the migration,” Wallerstein said. “Until then we’re doing what we can.”
Though many hope for the whale’s safety that it begins to migrate again, its presence has become an important opportunity for the community.
“It’s the chance for families to go out there, see a whale and connect with something that’s from the ocean,” said Knight, who hasn’t seen a whale in the marina for nearly 10 years.
More than 80 years ago Santa Monica residents may have been able to witness hundreds of whales each year as Marina del Rey was once the location of the Ballona Lagoon where California gray whales would migrate to give birth, Knight said.
“It’s just sort of an example of the value of saving whatever is left of these natural areas and leaving space where these animals can come in and rest if they’re injured,” she said.