Saturday, April 11, 2009

Coast Guard Comes to Rescue of Whale Underneath the Verrazano Bridge by Christina Boyle and Rich Schapiro - NY Daily News

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The Coast Guard came to the rescue of a whale spotted swimming underneath the Verrazano Bridge. Sabo/News

After wandering into a busy channel near the Verrazano Bridge, a wayward humpback whale was headed south Thursday toward the open sea.

The healthy but homesick whale was last spotted gliding smoothly through the chilly waters a couple of miles south of Coney Island about 2:30 p.m., officials said.

Hours earlier, the NYPD and Coast Guard boats helped guide the 30-foot-long mammal out of a shipping channel several miles north.

"It's headed in the right direction and we hope it keeps going," said Teri Frady, spokeswoman for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's fishery service in the northeast.

Frady said the massive marine creature appeared to be in good health, though the dark-colored beast could use a hearty meal.

"It wasn't having any trouble swimming, diving or breathing," Frady said. "It did appear to be a little underweight."

The whale is believed to be the same mammal that nearly beached itself on Rockaway Beach in Queens Wednesday.

Thursday, the whale was first spotted about 8 a.m. swimming south of the Verrazano Bridge and 14 miles from where it was last seen Wednesday evening.

Fearing a boat might strike the disoriented whale, the Coast Guard set up a safety area to protect it from passing vessels.

"We've set up a safety zone because it is in the commercial shipping lane and we don't want anybody to hit it," said Barbara Patton, a spokeswoman for the Coast Guard.

Adult humpback whales range in length from 40 to 50 feet and weigh approximately 80,000 pounds.

Rob DiGiovanni, director of the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research, said the whale showed no sign it was in distress when it reached deeper waters.

"It was diving for a longer period of time and behaving how you would expect a normal whale to behave when it got into deeper water," DiGiovanni said.

Experts say it's not unusual for whales to be in the area at this time of year, but they're usually not close to shore.