Whale spotted in Elizabeth River

HAMPTON ROADS, Va. (WAVY) – The Virginia Aquarium Stranding Response Team is monitoring a whale that’s been swimming in the Elizabeth River since late last week.

The Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center said the animal was first spotted by the Coast Guard last Thursday in the James River near Craney Island, the Hampton Roads Birdge-Tunnel and Monitor Merrimac Memorial Bridge-Tunnel.

Then the Coast Guard said it got a number of reports this week about the whale, 35 to 45-feet-long, near the South Norfolk Jordan Bridge. Since then, biologists say it’s been “actively swimming in circles and laps in various Elizabeth River locations.”

Biologists said the whale wasn’t entangled or notably injured, but is thin and disoriented.

“We don’t know if male or female … or sick … we don’t know … or what is causing it to be in here,” said Kristy Phillips with the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center.

10 On Your Side traveled with Phillips, her staff, and the Virginia Marine Police to find and observe the whale on Tuesday.

“We’ve been recording respiration and the behavior when it comes up to the surface,” she said. “What it does at the surface, and we gather it all together to give us a better picture.”

Each day since the whale was first sighted, Phillips said it progressively moved farther up river until it reached the area where it is now, and where it has been spotted for a couple of days. Phillips said they don’t know why it is up river this far; they are monitoring it and gathering as much information as they can to figure that out. She said it is not considered stranded.

“It could be sick, it could be confused, just lost, it is too soon to tell why this animal is in here,” she said.

Without a full view of the whale, biologists aren’t able to identify it’s species, but suspect it could be a Sei whale.

If you’re in the water and you see it, stay clear. You could get a $50,000 fine.

“We encourage everyone to stay clear of the whale,” Phillips said. “If his personal space keeps getting encroached upon … it provides stress … the whale is used to an entire ocean where he/she can go wherever … now the whale is controlled in only 50 feet of water … we don’t want to stress the whale anymore, and we don’t need anymore boat traffic than is necessary. That would just stress this animal more.”

This is the Safety Marine Information Broadcast that the U.S. Coast Guard broadcast to mariners via radio earlier this week:

THE COAST GUARD HAS RECEIVED A REPORT OF A 35-45FT WHALE IN THE SOUTHERN BRANCH OF THE ELIZABETH RIVER IVO 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 HARASSING A MARINE MAMMAL IS A VIOLATION OF THE MARINE MAMMAL PROTECTION ACT AND CARRIES A CIVIL AND CRIMINAL FINE OF UP TO $50,000.

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