The wayward humpback whales that have captivated the Bay Area — and much of the nation — for the past three weeks may be back out in the Pacific Ocean this afternoon, according to officials.
Bernadette Fees, deputy director of the California Department of Fish and Game, told reporters earlier today that if the whales were not spotted by early afternoon, rescuers would assume the mother and calf had swum under the Golden Gate Bridge and out to sea.
A strong oceanward push by two wayward humpback whales, Delta and Dawn, landed them in San Francisco Bay’s deeper and saltier waters with a chance to make it to the ocean by this morning. The whales had been seen on the east side of the north and south towers of the Golden Gate Bridge, according to a cbs5 report, but officials had not pinpointed their exact location.
Catching a whiff of the salinity offered by the open sea, the humpbacks appeared to have a spring in their flukes Tuesday, powering past the Carquinez and Richmond-San Rafael bridges into the San Francisco Bay. They were spotted near Tiburon around sunset last night after they passed under the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge.
Carole Singleton, spokeswoman for the state Office of Emergency Services, could not say for certain whether the whales would pass under the Golden Gate Bridge Tuesday night, given the unpredictability of their journey thus far.
"They seem to be milling about right now," Singleton said at approximately 9:30 p.m. Tuesday night. "They’re really picky about when they travel. We don’t know what’s going to happen."
A flotilla tracking the whales’ movement maintained a 500-yard safety zone around the whales during the day but had to leave the whales because of the night’s choppy waters.
Traveling between 3 and 5 mph, according to officials, the whales were three miles from Angel Island at 6:30 p.m., perhaps headed through Raccoon Strait near Tiburon to the Golden Gate Bridge and the ocean beyond.
There was some buzz in area yacht clubs about trying to catch a glimpse of the whales when they came into the Bay, a small indication of the cetacean excitement. Jerry Fisher of the San Francisco Yacht Club, which is in Belvedere, said he expected a small flotilla of rowing shells to check out the whales if they come through Raccoon Strait near the club.
According to the Sausalito-based Marine Mammal Center, the whales were first spotted heading upriver near Benicia on May 9. They ultimately reached a turn basin near the Port of Sacramento on May 17, roughly 90 miles away from the ocean, where rescuers played humpback songs to lure them downriver — to no avail.
The whales left the turn basin May20 of their own accord, swimming 25 miles down to the Rio Vista Bridge, where they stalled. On Sunday, the whales then traveled another 25 miles down to the Benicia Bridge.
Rescuers woke Tuesday morning to the whales passing under the Carquinez Bridge and making strong headway into San Pablo Bay.
Get the latest stories and updates in Examiner's special "Delta Whales" section.
Watch the latest video and check out a video library of the whales' journey.
See photo galleries of the whales in Examiner's "San Francisco in Pictures" blog.
Check out a slide show of the humpbacks' 90-mile trip.
— Examiner staff and the Associated Press contributed to this report
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