January 18, 2006

Rare right whales make surprise visit to Texas coast

By Jim Forsyth

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas (Reuters) - Researchers were
surprised this week by the sudden appearance -- and quick
disappearance -- of two rare Northern right whales in the busy
industrial port of Corpus Christi Bay.

"It's a most extraordinary event," said oceanographer Tony
Amos of the University of Texas Marine Science Institute in
Port Aransas.

"They're almost unknown in the Gulf of Mexico. Why they
would come into the bay, I don't really know."

Amos said a 50-foot (15-meter), 60-ton adult female and her
15-foot (5-meter) baby calf apparently became lost and popped
up on Monday in the bay, which is protected from the Gulf of
Mexico by a narrow barrier island.

The calf appeared to be suffering from two slash injuries
possibly caused by a ship's propeller, and Amos said the
biggest threat to them now was a serious injury from shipping

By Wednesday, mother and calf were nowhere to be seen,
raising hopes their low-frequency sonar helped them find their
way home.

"One has to assume that because we haven't seen them they
have actually left the bay and the Corpus Christi Ship Channel
and are back out in the Gulf," Amos said.

The right whale got it name because 19th century fishing
ships considered the huge, slow moving creatures to be the
'right whale' to hunt. They have been nearly hunted out of

Fewer than 1,000 are believed to exist, and those tend to
spend their winters in warm Gulf stream waters off the Atlantic
coasts of Florida and Georgia.

Officials say they are common in large bays, but are nearly
unknown along the western coast of the Gulf of Mexico.

Right Whales have been known even to travel up rivers and
are frequently found in large estuaries. Their last reported
visit to the Texas coast was in 1972, when a single whale
beached itself near Freeport.