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Coast Guard Monitoring Traffic Around Whales In San Francisco Bay

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Chopper 5 spots a gray whale in San Francisco Bay on March 7, 2012. (CBS)

Chopper 5 spots a gray whale in San Francisco Bay on March 7, 2012. (CBS)

MelissaCulross_180 Melissa Culross
Melissa Culross had intended to become a novelist but was side-lined...
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SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) – The U.S. Coast Guard advised boaters to steer clear of Alcatraz Island Friday after one of the gray whales visiting San Francisco Bay was spotted southeast of the historic prison.

A pair of gray whales has been seen several times since Wednesday. The mother and young calf are part of a larger migration from breeding areas near Mexico to feeding areas near Alaska, said officials from the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary.

KCBS’ Melissa Culross Reports:

“They’ll come in for a day, or even just for a few hours. Sometimes they’ll stay for several days and then find their way back out again,” said Mary Jane Schramm, spokeswoman for the sanctuary.

On Friday morning, at least one gray whale was seen near Blossom Rock, a submerged rock near Yerba Buena Island.

“The whales are inside the Bay southeast of Alcatraz,” Schramm said, and the Coast Guard has been steering traffic away from them.

Federal law requires boaters to stay 50 yards or more away from whales, as collisions could be disastrous for both the whales and the boats, officials said.

Schramm said young calves are particularly vulnerable to boaters since they could starve if separated from their mothers.

No Coast Guard vessel is actively following the whales, but Schramm said the Coast Guard had assumed a “law enforcement posture,” so that its officers could “enforce the Marine Mammal Protection Act in case there is any indication of harassment.”

Boaters approaching or bothering whales could be arrested and subject to criminal penalties of up to $20,000.

While not much of a whale is usually visible on the surface, whales can be spotted by their blow, which looks like a puff of smoke about 10 to 15 feet high. Schramm said whales will blow several times before diving for three to six minutes.

Schramm recommended that anyone who wants a close encounter with a whale go on a whale-watching trip with a captain who knows how to navigate near whales and a naturalist to explain whale behavior.

(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco and Bay City News Service. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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