NEW YORK (AP) – Experts kept a close eye on a young minke whale that continued to tool around in a small bay off industrial Brooklyn for a second day, hoping the wayward animal would decide to head for open water and ease the worries of marine biologists, conservationists and amateur whale fanciers.

Kim Durham, a rescue expert from the Long Island-based Riverhead Foundation for Research and Preservation, said there was a brief moment early Wednesday when it appeared the 15-ton whale was on the move toward safer waters. “Initially we were pretty excited, but now we are told it is still in the same area,” she said.

After 24 hours of whale-watching, experts reported seeing nothing to indicate the mammal was sick, such as swimming erratically or in “patterns” such as tight circles. With only the dorsal fin visible at times, observers could only guess whether it might be injured in some way.

Durham, who got up close and personal in a motorized rubber boat on Tuesday, said the whale’s breathing rates seemed normal, it did not exhibit a sunken appearance that would suggest it was drawing on its own blubber for sustenance, and it wasn’t visibly bothered by nearby police and Coast Guard patrol boats.

“Even so, for a minke whale to be in that area, something’s not right,” Durham said in a telephone interview. “It would be great if we could say to the whale, “say ahhh and stick your tongue out.”‘

At City Hall, Mayor Michael Bloomberg told reporters he had “absolutely no idea whether there’s anything we can do to help” the animal.

“My thoughts are with the whale,” he said with a slight smile.

The whale was first spotted on Tuesday in Gowanus Bay, a small estuary off industrial south Brooklyn that is the outlet from the Gowanus canal, a narrow 1.15-mile waterway once lined with pollution-generating coal yards, scrap yards and small industries.

The Daily News dubbed the whale “Sludgie.”

The canal actually has improved in recent years due to environmental cleanup efforts. After a huge underwater fan, designed to keep the water flowing, was reactivated, crabs and other marine creatures began turning up. But Robert Guskind, founder of Gowanuslounge.com, said the recent nor’easter would have sent more raw sewage into the canal, something he said always occurs with major storms.

He said the whale story had generated a lot of traffic on his Web site. “People are concerned abut the creature’s ability to survive,” he said. “Quite honestly it could not have picked a worse spot.”

Guskind and Durham disputed media reports that the animal was ever inside the canal proper. “I don’t know how that got started. I was there with it all day and I was never in the canal,” Durham said. “One of our concerns is that it might try to go there. There would be no way to prevent it.”

Guskind’s Web site includes a map showing the whale in the waters generally called Gowanus Bay, defined by a highway bridge that spans the canal exit.

“More recently, it has been reported nearer to the Home Depot,” noted one update.

Like the Gowanus canal, the outlet is lined with docks, storage warehouses and a large fuel oil depot, but has enough room for a whale to turn around in its 30-foot depths. The canal is shallower and so narrow that a large mammal might have problems making a U-turn.

Minke whales are a subspecies of baleen whales, common in northern Atlantic waters, and feed on plankton and krill. They are not known for “singing” like their cousins, the humpback whales. In fact, underwater listening devices picked up only a few “grunts” in the Gowanus waters, Durham said.

Durham was uncertain whether underwater sounds could be used to coax or drive the whale back into the open harbor, and the answer may lie more in the tides.

“In any attempt to herd it, different parameters have to be taken into account,” she said. “It will not react well to any attempt to force it.”

In some cases, lost or trapped whales flee at the recorded sounds of orca, or killer whales, but Durham said that wouldn’t work in this case. “Whales like this one have never heard that sound,” she said. “They wouldn’t know what it was.”



On the Net: www.gowanuslounge.com

AP-ES-04-18-07 1437EDT


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