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Lack Of Funds, Gear Undermines Rescue Efforts

September 15, 1986

YAKUTAT, Alaska (AP) _ The effort to rescue marine mammals trapped when a fast-moving glacier plugged a fiord’s outlet to the sea is teetering under lack of money and expectations that Alaska’s harsh autumn will soon arrive.

The volunteers will keep trying for at least another week or until bad weather sets in, but there is a good chance they will not be able to get the stranded seals and porpoises out of Russell Lake, said Joy McBride, spokeswoman for the California Marine Mammal Center.

″A storm could blow in tomorrow,″ Ms. McBride said at the group’s Yakutat base camp.

So far, clear weather has held over Yakutat and the lake 25 miles away on the Alaska Panhandle.

The animals are expected to starve as their food supply dies because fresh water flowing into the dammed fiord is diluting salt water.

Rescuers at the lake reported seeing fewer animals than they spotted a few days earlier. Veterinarian Laurie Gage said she believes they are being scattered and scared by airplanes.

Rescuers cannot ask reporters and camera crews to stay away, however, because their flights are the rescue team’s only transportation to and from the lake, since they haven’t enough money to hire their own planes.

″We have an enormous problem with funding,″ Ms. McBride said. At last count, the marine mammal center and the Whale Museum, of Friday Harbor, Wash., had raised $25,000, she said.

About $2,000 was spent for a helicopter to supply the lake camp, and a few hundred dollars was spent on other airfare, she said. Money must be reserved to pay for flying out any animals that are captured.

The group had planned to call on the U.S. Coast Guard to fly captured animals out of the lake, but organizer Ken McCann has said that might not be possible if rescuers can bring out only one animal at a time over a period of days.

Ms. Gage estimated it would be three to seven days, if all goes well, before the seals and porpoises will come close enough to people to be captured. The animals seen Sunday were healthier than expected, and would be too active to capture unless they can be tamed with handouts of fish, Ms. Gage said.

She hoped to work on the lake Monday with a fathometer, which uses sound to measure depth and locate schools of fish. Its sound is known to attract porpoises, and it also may reveal how many fish are left in the lake for the porpoises and seals to eat.

Ms. Gage said the animals might be healthy enough to live another couple months in the lake if there is food for them.

The lake was cut off from the Pacific Ocean in the spring when the surging Hubbard Glacier pushed a dam of ice, mud and rubble across the entrance to Russell Fiord.

Some glaciologists believe heavy autumn rain will swell the lake enough to send it pouring over the dam. But if the glacier keeps moving, it again would plug the entrance and the change from salt water to fresh water would continue.

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