Looking for the Freed Whales

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Looking for the Freed Whales

CNN Television News Report by Greg Lefevre, 12/26/88 - Modified by F. Meehan

They are perhaps the best known whales since Moby Dick. When last seen, Siku and Putu, the two gray whales recently trapped in ice were heading out to the open sea. After a three week effort by Inuit, biologists, oil companies, the National guard, the crew of a Soviet ice breaker and others to free them from the ice, now scientists want to know if the two whales actually survived.

(MAN SPEAKING) "Nobody knows for sure what happened to these whales after they hit the open sea. We would like to know if they're still alive, and if so, the rate at which they're travelling."

Thousands of gray whales are now migrating south for the winter. They breed every year in the lagoons off Baja Mexico. This is the season for whale watching tours. One whale watcher said, "I think they could be found: after all, different whales have different markings so it should be possible to distinguish between them." The hope is that someone will spot the two whales and photograph them. Those photographs could then be compared with pictures of the trapped whales in Alaska, but it won't be easy.

(WOMAN SPEAKING) "Well, you have to remember that around 21,000 gray whales head south, so it won't be easy spotting just two. Now as far as the markings go, that is kind of tough. Gray whales are covered with barnacles so they tend to look alike."

And then there is always the chance that they didn't make it. One scientist says, "It's not at all improbable they died. One did die. There were three of them initially."

But even if the two gray whales did survive, scientists say it is still possible they would have decided not to migrate all the way down the Pacific coast. That is because the two whales were believed to be young males not yet of breeding age.

(WOMAN SPEAKING) "They don't breed. They're not going to go down and have kids, so why go down at all? Why not just go part of the way, wait a little, then turn around and join the other grays on their way back north?"

Whale sightings are common at this time of year, but as for finding Siku and Putu, that seems unlikely. As one whale watcher put it, "That would be a fluke."

© 1998 Cable News Network, Inc.