fb pixel

Log In

Reset Password

Wayward whale has spawned traffic jam at bridge

If you're thinking about heading to the Klamath River bridge near the Northern California coast to get a peek at a resident gray whale, think again.

The California Highway Patrol is urging people to avoid the bridge, citing a growing safety hazard since the nearly 50-foot whale showed up in the river late in June.

"We have two officers assigned each day to the bridge because of the trouble we're having with traffic jams and pedestrians on the bridge," said officer Brent Weese at the CHP station in Crescent City. "We have reports of 70 people at a time on the bridge now."

Given the long narrow span of the Highway 101 bridge, the traffic jam, coupled with pedestrians running across both lanes, is creating dangerous conditions, he said.

It is illegal to make a non-emergency stop on the bridge, according to the CHP. Several people have been cited for impeding traffic on the bridge since the whale was first sighted, Weese said.

"We are recommending that people stay away because of the danger," he said. "This is creating a major traffic problem on 101."

The bridge, situated about 20 miles south of Crescent City, is known by coast travelers for its golden bear statues guarding each end.

The adult whale and her 15-foot-long calf entered the river in late June, swimming about three miles up from the mouth, officials said.

The calf appears to have returned to the ocean last week but the cow has refused to leave the freshwater, despite attempts by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association and the Yurok Indian Tribe to coax it downstream to the ocean, the CHP said.

The gray whales are normally feeding in the rich waters off Alaska this time of year, having left their breeding grounds in Baja California early in the spring, according to whale experts.

No one knows why the whales swam up the river, although marine biologists say it is not unknown for the huge mammals to sometimes swim into fresh water.

Biologists from NOAA are concerned the gray whale's skin could deteriorate if she stays in the fresh water too long. The weaned calf can survive in the ocean on its own, they noted.

Meanwhile, the CHP is reminding people in the region that the bridge is no place for whale watching.

"We have had pedestrians running back and forth in front of traffic on the bridge," Weese said. "We have had people walking on the narrow edge of the bridge."

Officers will not hesitate to issue citations for anyone violating traffic laws, he said.

"It's a dangerous place for people to be," he reiterated.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or email him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.