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On March 13, 1972 a gray whale called Gigi was released into the open ocean about four miles off Point Loma after a year in captivity. Gigi had been captured for scientific study at the gray whale breeding and calving grounds off the coast of Baja California and brought to SeaWorld in San Diego.
After a year the whale could no longer fit in SeaWorld’s largest tank, and was released, despite worries that the mammal would not be able to fend for herself in the open ocean.
After briefly appearing disoriented and swimming in circles, Gigi was tracked as far as San Clemente. A radio transmitter implanted on Gigi’s back did not work as planned.
The last confirmed sighting of Gigi in the wild came in 1977.
From the Evening Tribune, Monday, March 13, 1972:
‘LANDLUBBER’ LIFE ENDS
Gigi takes to open seas, frolics with other whales
By Bob Corbett, Evening Tribune Science Writer
Gigi the gray whale was released at 9:51 a.m. today after a year’s captivity. She was placed in a pod of about 20 other gray wales four miles west of Point Loma.
The 14,000-pound marine mammal dived and swam with the pod, relieving the minds of about 50 scientists and newsmen watching from a distance.
Many feared Gigi —captured when only a few weeks old — would have no knowledge of the ocean.
There also was the chance she would stick to the release vessel — as a calf to its mother.
Gigi stayed down for six minutes on her first dive. When she surfaced, the instrument pack on her back did not completely emerge from the sea and did not send a signal.
Ten she dived an surfaced again at 10:06 a.m. The instrument package gave off a strong signal as she moved away from the release vessel.
Instrumentation at noon indicated the whale had dropped hyperventilating —breathing hard, as she had done in transit — and was breathing normally. She seemed to be moving in a southwest direction, circling and trying to get her bearings.
Gigi was lifted in a huge sling at Sea World early today and taken by truck to the Naval Undersea Research and Development Center (NUC) on Point Loma.
She was placed on a barge and pulled to sea by tugboat. Sea World and NUC scientist wanted to get her among other gray whales before releasing her.
They sighted a big pod off Mission Beach and turned the mammal loose.
Normally a passive creature, Gigi displayed some emotion at NUC as she was placed in a foam-rubber-lined cradle on the barge, snorting and bucking her great hulk several times.
Her handlers, Bud Donahoo and Sue Bailey, had to comfort her to settle her down.
However, Donahoo and Kym Murphy, a marine biologist and director of laboratories at Sea World, said that, overall, Gigi made the first leg trip from Sea World to NUC with little fuss.
Whether Gigi will be accepted back into the world of the whale or fend for herself in a hostile ocean after a year in the tame tanks of Sea World is a matter of conjecture.
Dr. William C. Evans of NUC, director of the release program, and Dr. William E. Schevill of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution said yesterday a a press conference that they just weren’t sure how the animal would react when she entered the ocean.
Source: This post first appeared on sandiegouniontribune.com