A lethargic, emaciated gray whale that had wandered into Dana Point Harbor made its way back to deep water late Tuesday to the relief of boaters and marine biologists.
The whale, about 35 to 40 feet long and estimated to weigh about 30 tons, was spotted in the harbor just before noon Monday.
The whale briefly navigated its way out of the harbor Tuesday before circling back into port and then heading out to sea again.
The Harbor Patrol tried to startle it back out to sea with noisy boat maneuvers. Tim Sullivan, a marine biologist at the Ocean Institute in Dana Point, said he banged pieces of galvanized pipe together underwater.
"The intent was to annoy him enough to get him to move away from the sound, but he was not annoyable," Sullivan said. "He just moved up and down the harbor very slowly."
Sullivan said the whale appeared old, tired and close to death, and could have been up to 60 years old.
After leaving and returning, it finally swam out of the harbor Tuesday toward Doheny Beach, where it was last spotted.
About 10,000 gray whales have been making their annual migration from the warm waters of Baja California, Mexico, where they spend the winter, to their feeding grounds in Alaska and the Arctic.
"We don't expect to see northbound gray whales after the end of April," Sullivan said. "This is a little late. This is a straggler."
Sullivan said whales wander into the harbor about once a year, but usually they are infants who lose their way.
Whales in the harbor are a danger to boats, he said, and boats are a danger to whales.
Times staff writer Robert Lopez contributed to this report.