40-foot whale stuck in a new location in the Elizabeth River

Posted at 11:37 AM, Aug 19, 2014
and last updated 2014-08-21 12:10:51-04

The Virginia Aquarium Stranding Response Team is continuing to monitor a live whale that has been reported swimming in the Elizabeth River.

As of Thursday, the whale sits stuck in a new location in the St. Julien's Creek area of Chesapeake, just north of the Gilmerton Bridge.

The 40 foot whale was originally spotted on August 14th by the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) in the James River between the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel and the Monitor Merrimac Memorial Bridge Tunnel. It was immediately noted there were no obvious signs of entanglement or injury, Aquarium officials say.

Since then, the whale has been seen actively swimming in circles and laps in various Elizabeth River locations.

The Stranding Response Team has observed that the whale is thin and obviously disoriented and moving in the wrong direction, officials say. The Stranding Response Team has gone out with the Virginia Marine Resources Commission- (VMRC) Marine Police and NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement to locate the whale and continue to monitor its behavior.

Without a full view of the whale’s body, it is challenging to positively identify its species. The team suspects it could be a sei whale. These whales are located worldwide, but usually live in pelagic waters offshore, officials say.

The USCG Hampton Roads continues to broadcast a warning to mariners to reduce speed and report any sightings of the whale to the Virginia Aquarium Stranding Response 24 hour hotline 385-7575 or on the VHF to USCG who will inform the Aquarium.

Under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, it is illegal to harass or approach marine mammals such as whales.

To report someone harassing a marine mammal, please contact NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement Hotline at 1 800 853-1964.

The United States Coast Guard is assisting the NOAA Stranding Team and the Virginia Aquarium Marine Science Center by spreading the word about the whale sighting to boaters via a Safety Marine Information Broadcast, according to David Weydert of the USCG.

The following report was issued via Safety Marine Information Broadcast:

The United States Coast Guard has received a report of a 35-45 foot whale in the Southern Branch of the Elizabeth River, Jordan Bridge, and Paradise Creek. All mariners are requested to stay clear of and do not feed the whale. Report all sightings to the Virginia Aquarium at (757) 385-7575 or contact Coast Guard Sector Hampton Roads on channel 16. Injuring or harrassing a marine mammal is a violation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act and carries a civil and criminal fine of up to $50,000.