Tracking JJ Is A Slippery Task

Tracking JJ the gray whale is proving nearly as challenging as raising her.

Rescued as an infant and raised in captivity, J.J. was returned to the Pacific Ocean on Tuesday. Satellite transmitters attached to her back will track her position for up to 18 months.

Although she hasn't strayed far from where she was dropped into the sea, information from the transmitters is taking hours to dispatch and analyze.

"It's not an instantaneous thing," Sea World curator Jim Antrim said Wednesday. "We can't just turn on a computer and it says, 'J.J. is here.'"

Each time J.J. breaks the ocean's surface, her transmitters send a signal to a satellite, which then sends the information to a computer at the Argos Data Collection and Location Service near Washington D.C.

Argos then sends the data by computer to Sea World researcher Brent Stewart, who then filters the information detailing her location, and the depths and duration of her dives.

"It may be possible to receive 100 to 150 transmissions per day, but that number can vary depending on several things," Stewart said, such as how long the orbiting satellite is in view of the transmitter and how often J.J. surfaces.

The best tracking so far has come from researchers following J.J. in a boat at a distance of about 300 yards.

"They've seen her surface a few times and stick her nose out of the water," Antrim said. "She hasn't been in close proximity of other whales yet. She's just investigating her environment."

Early Wednesday, she was seen swimming off the coast of Coronado, across the bay from San Diego.

"She has made some vocalizations, but we're not sure if she is trying to communicate with other whales or just testing her environment," Antrim said.

J.J. was found churning in the surf Jan. 11, 1997, near Los Angeles after her mother abandoned her. The baby whale was malnourished, comatose and undersized at 13 feet, 10 inches, weighing only 1,670 pounds.

She was take to Sea World in San Diego where marine biologists nursed her back to health. When released, she was a healthy 19,200 pounds and 31 feet long.

By Michelle Williams
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