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Humphrey’s Story


We didn’t see any Humpbacks on our Tuesday Wake up With the Whales, but we did have a nice morning on the water looking for them! So with no Humpbacks to report about in our waters, here’s an interesting story about a Humpback who went where he wasn’t supposed to be:

In 1985, a Humpback whale nicknamed “Humphrey” swam into San Francisco Bay and then up the Sacramento River towards Rio Vista, Ca. After a couple of weeks in fresh water, Humphrey started showing signs of physical stress, turning grey and listless. Researchers and scientists were at a loss on how to help him back to the Pacific Ocean, until an acoustician offered the recordings he had made of Humpback whales feeding as a way to lure Humphrey down the river to the ocean. It worked — Humphrey followed a ship broadcasting the sounds down the river and as soon as he encountered salt water perked up and began doing longer deeper dives. On November 4th, 1985, at 4:36 pm, he swam past the Golden Gate Bridge and headed south.

After successfully luring Humphrey to the ocean in 1985, researchers were a little surprised to see him back in San Francisco Bay again in 1990. This time, he got stuck on a mud flat south of Candlestick Park. Rescuers from the Marine Mammal Center and the US Coast Guard used a cargo net and a boat to free him. Then, he was guided out of the Bay to the ocean by a flotilla of boats behind him full of people banging on steel pipes (a Japanese fishing technique called “oikomi”). At the same time, those same attractive sounds of Humpbacks feeding that lured Humphrey out to sea in 1985 were broadcast from boats in front of Humphrey. It worked. Since then, Humphrey’s story has been memorialized in a number of children’s books, a movie and he even has a couple of Facebook pages!


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