a Year of Preparation, J.J. Released! April
However, getting J.J. up to the appropriate size and weight for release was only the first step. There was still the little matter, or not so little matter, of getting J.J. back to the Pacific without harming her, so that she could join up with a pod of migrating grays and successfully complete her natural migration northward to the Chukchi and Bering Seas.
When I arrived at the LORD HORNBLOWER I found that I was but one of nearly fifty others who had come to witness the historic release. Among the anxious crowd were a variety of Sea World personnel, including many of J.J.'s handlers, the director of their educational department, as well as Sea World's founder and its current director. Other agencies represented on board were The Marine Mammal Stranding Network, American Oceans Campaign, and the California Sport Fishing Association, just to name a few.
As the LORD HORNBLOWER pulled away from her slip and eased into the main channel of the San Diego harbor, the USCG Buoy Tender, CONIFER, slipped past us surrounded by an entourage of harbor patrol vessels as well as several J.J. support boats. One boat in particular, the MEGALADON, carried several sonabuoys which were to be placed into the ocean at J.J.'s drop site, in an attempt to track her movements at the time of release.
As the CONIFER passed, J.J. could be seen on the forward deck, held gently in a red "whale gurney," the sides of which were supported by a large crane used to lift massive buoys from the ocean. J.J.'s immense body was additionally supported by a thick layer of foam padding on which the gurney was resting. Throughout the entire procedure, J.J.'s handlers kept her cool and wet with a constant shower of water. Despite the great care exhibited by her trainers, J.J. still appeared noticeably disturbed by the whole ordeal and occasionally threw her great rostrum and tail from side to side.
When we finally arrived at the chosen release site, several miles off the La Jolla coast, the crew of the MEGALADON immediately began strategically placing the sonabuoys so that whichever direction J.J. headed, her movement could be followed, even before she ever surfaced.
Now the critical time had arrived. The crane slowly raised its precious cargo up from the deck of the ship, and began easing the red gurney over the port side so that it hung suspended above the ocean below. J.J. and the gurney were then cautiously lowered over the port side until they came to a rest at the surface of the water. Moments later, the three lines which had supported the left side of the gurney were pulled loose and J.J. was gently released into her new home.
anxious minutes all eyes and cameras were on the surrounding water,
scanning for any sign of the now free J.J. However, it had appeared
that for the moment, she had given us all the slip. With J.J. released
and presumably fine, the LORD HORNBLOWER turned around and headed
toward San Diego harbor. Thirty minutes later, the captain came over
the PA and announced that the buoys had picked up J.J.'s signal and
still in La Jolla cove and appeared to be doing just fine.