Update on Health of Humpback Whales

RIO VISTA, Calif. — The health of two humpback whales that wandered into the Sacramento River earlier this month continues to be a focus of rescue operations. Principal veterinarian, Dr. Frances Gulland of The Marine Mammal Center, reported changes in the whales’ wounds and skin condition Tuesday observed from her station on the Sacramento River at Rio Vista.

“We continue to monitor the condition of both mother and calf, and have concerns about our recent observations,” Gulland said. “The wounds appear to have worsened over time and their skin has changed from smooth and shiny to irregular and pitted,” she added.

The wounds sustained by the mother and calf are presumed to have been caused by a run-in with a vessel.

Biologists say fresh water from the river can impede the healing process for the whales. However, assessing the health of wild animals can be difficult because they have evoloved to mask their injuries to protect themselves from predators.

A sample of skin and blubber was taken from the adult whale yesterday and sent to research labs at Oregon State University, the University of Tennessee and the Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle. The sample will be tested to reveal the whale’s general health condition, her nutritional status, and help identify her population stock.

Unified rescue operations by federal, state and local agencies are ongoing. Twelve boats were deployed to conduct herding operations to help encourage the whales down the Sacramento River and out to the Pacific. Personnel on these vessels resumed their pipe-banging efforts today, aimed at urging the whales downriver.

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