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More Than $600,000 and Counting in Whale Rescue Effort With AM-Trapped Whales, Bjt

October 25, 1988

BARROW, Alaska (AP) _ The effort to free two whales trapped by bitter cold and shifting ice in the high Arctic has taken on a life of its own and costs are climbing.

Many of those involved in the attempt seem reluctant to discuss the tab - but it appears substantial, upward of $600,000 by late Monday.

Increasing numbers of agencies and companies - from the Alaska Army National Guard to the oil industry to a custom sewing company in California - have donated time or equipment in the past two weeks. Now, two Soviet icebreakers are involved.

Rear Admiral Sigmund Petersen of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Monday that all agencies involved in the attempt were determined to continue until the endangered California gray whales are freed. But he admitted he had personal concerns.

″There are a lot of expenditures being made, I understand that,″ he said. ″Somehow, it may have gotten out of control. We decided at the very beginning that there was a need for saving these whales. They were caught here and stranded and NOAA has responsibility for endangered species.

NOAA biologist Ron Morris ″was asked to come up here to evaluate the situation. An offer was made to move this (hover) barge over here,″ he said. ″Then there was one offer after another that wasn’t turned down. All of a sudden we were in a massive type of operation.″

North Slope Borough officials said that as of Friday, their outlay had topped $300,000. Spokeswoman Marie Adams said the borough was asking for donations to a special fund to offset the expenses.

″A lot of people are calling in with their pledges, but they aren’t sending checks,″ she said. ″We’re getting the phone calls, but not the checks.″

She said she knew of only one $100 check being received. ″It takes a while for the mail to get up here,″ she said. But she said she was not optimistic.

Veco Inc., an oil field construction and service company, donated use of the $3 million ″hover-barge″ first employed in the rescue attempt. That effort was abandoned six miles offshore near Prudhoe Bay when Army National Guard helicopters could not tow the craft over coastal mud, shallow water and sand bars.

The National Guard usually charges $1,500 to $3,000 an hour for use of its CH-54 Skycrane helicopters, officials said. The Guard said that because of the ongoing nature of the operation, there was no estimate of the hours the helicopter has flown in the hover-barge operation or in later efforts to smash holes in the ice near the whales.

Veco on Saturday donated an ice-breaking tractor to the effort.

″We’ve got a ballpark number, you know, without figuring the hover-barge or the tractor, just out of pocket, of about $150,000 to $200,000 in this,″ said Bill Allen, chairman of the company’s board of directors.

Efforts to recover the Veco barge were underway Monday.

ARCO Alaska Inc. supplied fuel for the barge and the helicopters and provided living quarters for the National Guard in Prudhoe Bay. ″We don’t have a figure yet,″ said company spokeswoman Veronica Dent. ″Those costs are still coming in.″

Standard Alaska Production Co. provided heaters, tow cable, manpower and a chain saw mechanic at Barrow. The company also fabricated poles to push ice out of breathing holes. But there was no estimate of Standard’s costs.

Omark Industries Inc. has donated at least $10,500 in chain saws and saw chains.

The tractor donated by Veco was ferried to Barrow from Prudhoe Bay aboard an Air Force C-5A, the largest plane in the U.S. military inventory. ″The C-5 flew about 4 1/4 hours carrying the equipment. At almost $6,500 an hour and some change, that makes about $30,000,″ said Capt. Tom Dolney of the Military Airlift Command at Scott Air Force Base, Ill.

Petersen estimated his agency has spent about $6,000 on the operation.