Whale swims up a lazy river; and scientists want to send it back to sea

Scientists may be nearing a decision on what more to do for a wayward humpback whale that has spent at least 13 days away from the open sea. The 45-ton, 40-foot long mammal, was first spotted Oct. 11 in San Francisco Bay. It kept swimming up the Sacramento River until it arrived in Shag Slough, 70 miles from the Golden Gate.

Scientists decided Monday to leave it alone, and the US Coast Guard was keeping boats away. But Sheridan Stone, biologist for the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), said late Tuesday, ``There may be some change in its status soon. We're very aware that time is important'' in deciding what to do to shoo the animal back to salt water.

Scientists said they do not know how long the whale can live while exposed to fresh water. They said the fresh water damages its skin and eyes.

Scientists have tried broadcasting underwater recordings of female humpback whales, killer whales, and even music. They have been considering a technique the Japanese use to chase porpoises out of shallow water -- banging pipes under the surface. Dana Seagars, a NMFS biologist in Los Angeles, said that if the animal is simply left alone, it might calm down and leave of its own accord.

Scientists said the whale seemed still to be in good health Tuesday. With only about 12,000 of them left, the Humpback is an endangered species. The current population is said to be only about 5 to 10 percent of its original number.

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