NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — A stranded whale was freed from a sand bar at the mouth of the James River on Sunday and began swimming toward the Chesapeake Bay, the Coast Guard said.
Rescuers fighting to save the animal's life tied ropes to the giant mammal and managed to pull it off the sand bar at high tide Sunday afternoon, said Coast Guard Petty Officer R. P. Snyder.
Snyder said the whale became disoriented after being freed and headed toward the Elizabeth River, but rescuers were able to get it turned around toward the Chesapeake.
The animal, believed to be a finback whale and estimated at 55 to 60 feet long, may have run aground Saturday night, Coast Guard officials said. It was sighted Sunday morning about 300 feet offshore.
Curious motorists hoping for a glimpse of the whale tied up traffic along the city's waterfront streets, police said. The whale could be seen from the roadway, spouting water while it lay on the sand bar.
Rescuers had said the animal's chances of survival were grim and used fire hoses from a Coast Guard patrol boat to keep it wet. "One of the problems is that its skin is starting to dry out," Petty Officer Rick Barrett said earlier.
Marine biologists from the Virginia Institute of Marine Science and the National Marine Fisheries Division took blood samples and monitored the whale's vital signs while it was stranded. They said the animal did not appear to be ill.
James Mead, curator of the Smithsonian Institution's marine mammal division, said he believes it was the fourth finback found stranded along the East Coast since the start of summer. "They've had a zero survival rate so far," he said.