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Debate Swells Over Humphrey’s Possible Pregnancy

October 31, 1985

RIO VISTA, Calif. (AP) _ Humphrey, the 45-ton-whale whose exploits in the Sacramento River have made headlines for weeks, may really be Wanda the wandering whale, and she may be pregnant and in the river looking for a place to give birth, says a state emergency official.

Bev Passerello, spokeswoman for the state Office of Emergency Services, suggested Wednesday that Humphrey may be a female looking for comforting warm water to deliver an offspring.

She points out that female whales normally migrate to the warm coastal waters off Baja California and the Hawaiian islands to give birth.

If the 40-foot humpback whale, which is an endangered species, turns out to be pregnant, nothing else will be done to try to herd it back under the Golden Gate Bridge, she said.

But National Fisheries conservation chief Jim Slawson is skeptical. ″The last we knew it was male, and we still believe it’s a male,″ he said.

″Why worry about it?″ said marine biologist Brian Gibeson of the California Academy of Sciences. ″Our main concern should be how healthy it is and the like.″

Gibeson, who said it is ″kind of unlikely″ that Humphrey is a female, also is upset about all the publicity generated by the question.

″It’s getting out of hand with people jumping on the bandwagon and saying things without substantiation,″ he said.

Gibeson said the only way to be certain of the mammal’s sex is to check its genital area, but he admitted that was unlikely.

″The main thing we should do is let it alone. Maybe put a radio transmitter on it,″ he said. Efforts to do that earlier this week failed.

If Humphrey does turn out to be a pregnant female, Gibeson said he expects no major problems, ″as long as it doesn’t run into problems with boats.″

″If he is a she, and pregnant, and gives birth, it would be unique to say the least,″ said Gibeson, since the whale has been in fresh water for so long.

Meanwhile, state Sen. John Garamendi, who represents the area, has adopted Humphrey - or Wanda - as one of his constitutents and scheduled a meeting today with scientists on the best course of action for the whale. Humphrey wandered into the river 17 days ago and remains 45 miles from open sea.

″I don’t know what’s ridiculous. Public interest is not ridiculous. What harm is there in caring for an animal?″ Garamendi asked. ″Humphrey’s my constituent. Not for long, I hope.″

More than $50,000 in state and federal funds have already been spent in an effort to guide the whale back out to sea. Garamendi said he plans to introduce legislation to use money from the Rare and Endangered Species Fund to pay for further attempts. It is not known how long the whale can live in fresh water.

Offers of contributions to help pay for aid to the whale were reported flowing in from several large corporations, singer Wayne Newton, and Actors and Others For Animals in Hollywood, said California Marine Mammal Center executive director Peigin Barrett.

She said an interest-bearing money market account dubbed ″Humphrey’s Fund″ also has been set up by the center to collect contributions to help pay for the rescue project.

Update hourly