BOOKS: Gray Whales: Wandering Giants
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, May 1998:
by Robert H. Busch
Orca Book Publishers (POB 468, Custer,
WA 98240-0468), 1998.
138 pages, paperback, $19.95.
Among the whales most often seen
along the Pacific coast, gray whales until
recently have been much less known than the
acrobatic orcas and humpbacks, and the giant
blue whales, who––though relatively rarely
seen––loom as large in imagination as in life.
Perhaps for that reason there was
little public opposition when gray whales
were downlisted from endangered to threatened
in 1992, and removed completely from
Endangered Species Act protection in 1994.
Likewise, plans by the Mexican government
and the Japanese-based Mitsubishi consortium
to develop a salt works at San Ignacio
Lagoon, a key gray whale calving area, were
well advanced before attracting more than
fleeting notice from activist groups.
Specific concern for gray whales
has emerged, at last, only within the past
year or so, as the Bill Clinton/Albert Gore
White House has cleared away political obstacles
to enable the Makah tribe of Neah Bay,
Washington, to resume a “traditional” gray
whale hunt last held in 1928 and dormant for
20 years before that.
Gray whales gained a face on
January 11, 1997, when a calf became
stranded near Marina del Ray, California,
was rescued by Sea World at San Diego, and
was sucessfully rehabilitated. Named J.J.,
after former Friends of the Sea Lion Marine
Mammal Center director of operations Judi
Jones, who died a few days before J.J. was
discovered, the baby gray grew to 31 feet in
length and 19,000 pounds before her release
on March 31, 1998.
Within three days J.J. lost both of
the radio transponders she was expected to
carry for up to 18 months. Just as rumors surfaced
after her rescue that she and several
other stranded baby gray whales who didn’t
survive were casualties of underwater sonic
testing, there are now rumors that J.J. may
have been poached by illegal dragnetters and
her transponders tossed overboard.
Because J.J. became accustomed to
humans, much like Gigi, the baby gray
whale whom Sea World released apparently
successfully in March 1972, there is also concern
that she may become a quick victim of
the Makah whalers––if they don’t exhaust
their five-whale quota by killing the Neah
Bay resident population first.
As J.J. was not freeze-branded, we
may never know. She will, however, personify
gray whales for years to come, having
come and departed as a most timely emissary.
Robert H. Busch, succinctly summarizing
just about everything important to
know about gray whales, has published Gray
Whales: Wandering Giants just in time to
build on the public curiosity and concern
roused by J.J. and the prospect of Makah
whaling. We expect to refer often to our copy
during the the coming years.