Another whale tale: The travels of Humphrey enthralled locals

Nov. 5, 1985: Humphrey, the vagabond humpback whale who went from deep-sea-nobody to international celebrity in 25 days, glided swiftly through the Golden Gate’s fog into his natural, salty ocean habitat late Monday afternoon.

The meandering mammal’s persistent, plucky, 69-mile detour into the menacing (for him) fresh water of the Delta ended as he raised his flukes at midspan and then dived under the choppy surface.

Lured forward by recorded sounds of banqueting fellow humpbacks and trailed by the clatter of clanking pipes, Humphrey had a 13-ship military escort as he concluded his tour of civilization at 4:36 p.m.

It took an armada of Navy, Coast Guard and private fishing vessels nearly two full days to coax the 45-ton whale from Antioch back to the ocean.

Humphrey had first come into the bay Oct. 10, on the heels of arriving U.S. naval vessels. He lingered for a few days before heading upstream into the Sacramento River.

By Oct. 25 the whale was 69 miles inland, imperiled in a freshwater cul-de-sac slough near Rio Vista. Mammal experts were concerned that Humphrey, a saltwater creature, might be on the brink of death because of the long exposure to fresh water.

But with state Sen. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove, leading a government-volunteer rescue effort, some dredging was done beneath the concrete Liberty Island Bridge so that Humphrey could start heading home.

Herb Michelson