Tunes fail to lure whales to safety

Mom and calf aren't moved by scientists' ploy.

Published May 18, 2007

WEST SACRAMENTO, Calif. - Biologists tried unsuccessfully Thursday to use recorded siren songs of humpback whales to lure an injured female and her wounded calf from a shipping channel and back toward the Pacific Ocean 90 miles away.

When the researchers played the underwater recordings from an 87-foot Coast Guard cutter, the whales swam away from the sound rather than toward it.

Hours later, the whales were still swimming at the Port of Sacramento, where they have been since Tuesday. Scientists then decided to move the sound equipment to a 25-foot Coast Guard vessel, believing the noise from the larger ship's generator may have interfered with the whale sounds.

The whales twice began swimming out of the port after the sounds were broadcast from the smaller boat but turned back into a large basin that oceangoing freighters use for turning around. Hundreds of people lined the river banks to watch.

The Coast Guard and a team of scientists called off their efforts shortly before 5 p.m. It could take weeks to get the whales back where they belong, scientists said.

If the sounds aren't enough, wildlife officials will try a different tactic - lining the channel with more boats to herd the whales in the right direction.

The injuries were apparently caused by a boat propeller.