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Whale watching in Rio Vista

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Posted: Tuesday, May 15, 2007 10:00 pm

RIO VISTA - Whale fans from as far north as Sacramento and Woodland and as far south as Livermore came to the Rio Vista area hoping to catch a glimpse of a mother whale and her baby.

But it went to naught for most of Tuesday until the whales were spotted three miles south of the Port of Sacramento in the city of West Sacramento, according to a U.S. Coast Guard spokesman.

Nevertheless, people from throughout Northern California swear that they saw at least the adult whale earlier in the day.

"I saw the fin of the whale a couple of times," Stockton resident Tara Hungerford said shortly after 2 p.m. Tuesday while standing on the edge of a narrow levee on Ryer Island, north of Rio Vista. "It looked like a whale anyway."

And Woodland residents Denise Palomino and Cliff Langston said almost the same thing.

"They're just swimming," Langston said after getting off The Real McCoy Ferry that takes people and vehicles from Rio Vista to Ryer Island. "I saw one bob its head out to breathe."

(Marc Lutz/News-Sentinel)

However, officials from the U.S. Coast Guard and National Marine Fisheries Service said late Tuesday afternoon that the two whales, which were spotted Sunday and Monday, had not been seen anywhere on Tuesday.

That is until late Tuesday afternoon, when the Coast Guard confirmed that the whales were spotted just south of the Port of Sacramento's deep-water channel.

Prior to the sighting up in West Sacramento, "Our last report (of a sighting) was at 7 p.m. Monday," said Joanathan Cilley, a petty officer 3rd Class for the Coast Guard in Rio Vista. "We haven't set up a 100-yard safety zone."

The Coast Guard set up the safety zone on Sunday and Monday to protect the whales and boats along the Sacramento River and nearby sloughs.

"A 55-ton whale colliding with a vessel is not good," Cilley said.

Nevertheless, Rio Vista got more than its usual attention from out-of-towners and journalists from throughout Northern California as they hoped to find the two whales. It reminded people of Humphrey the Humpback Whale, who roamed the Sacramento River 20 years ago.

At least two whales have been spotted in the Sacramento River and various sloughs in the Rio Vista area. Several people spotted the whales near the Highway 84 ferry crossing Monday and they were reported to be in a nearby slough on Tuesday. (Marc Lutz/News-Sentinel)

Sue Campbell, left, didn't realize that she would be looking for whales in the delta on Tuesday when she drove from her Reno home to visit her friend, Iris Middleton of Carmichael, center. The two women braved strong winds on Ryer Island, hoping to spot the two whales that were seen in the area Sunday and Monday. At right is a cameraman for KPIX, Channel 5, in San Francisco. (Ross Farrow/News-Sentinel)

The city of Rio Vista hasn't forgotten the 1985 visit of Humphrey the Humpback Whale, as shown in this plaque in front of Rio Vista City Hall on the banks of the Sacramento River. (Ross Farrow/News-Sentinel)

"You never can tell. We may have one of Humphrey's descendants here," said Linda Lannon, executive director of the Rio Vista Chamber of Commerce, who saw the whales Monday evening off Ryer Island.

"They were looking like they were having a great time," Lannon said. "They'd go forward, go back up, go back. We were pretty excited."

John Reehl came all the way from Livermore hoping to find the whales Tuesday. He brought an expensive-looking Canon 35mm camera to photograph them.

"I've never seen a whale in its natural environment," Reehl said. "If I could get a picture of them, I'd be happy."

Reehl and other gawkers said they want to see the whales locally since they've only seen them on TV.

"It's just one of God's creatures," Reehl said. "I love animals in the wild in their own environment."

An Hungerford added, "Just knowing that they're there, such a big animal so far away from the ocean."

Pittsburg resident Chris Bekiaris, who saw Humphrey the Humpback Whale in 1985, came back Tuesday hoping to see the next generation. He recalls seeing Humphrey right in front of him on the banks of the Sacramento River.

"I hope these two whales find their way back," Bekiaris said. "It's fresh water out here. It's not good for them."

People lined up at the Real McCoy ferry dock, two miles north of Rio Vista along the banks of the Sacramento River, to get to Ryer Island and hope for a whale sighting. TV crews from Sacramento and San Francisco took the ferry to Ryer Island as well.

After crossing Cache Slough, which branches off the Sacramento River, streams of cars braved winds of an estimated 40 mph and a narrow levee road with deep drops on both sides in hopes of finding the whales Tuesday afternoon. Some cars actually parked in the southbound lane near where rumored sightings took place.

Nobody seemed to mind; visitors were too busy exchanging information about where the whales might be.

Contact reporter Ross Farrow at rossf@lodinews.com.

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1 comment:

  • posted at 12:59 pm on Thu, May 24, 2007.


    I realy like the way you get down to telling the News and I look forward every day to watch your show.



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