Humphrey the Lost Whale written by Wendy Tokuda and Richard Hall with illustrations by Hanako Wakiyama is based on the true story of a whale who swam from San Francisco Bay up the Sacramento River and got stuck and how the community helped him find his way home
Every year, humpback whales migrate north from Mexico to Alaska along the West Coast of the United States. In 1985, Humphrey made a detour. Instead of swimming up the coast, he turned under the Golden Gate Bridge into San Francisco Bay. At first, he was viewed as a special treat. Humpback whales usually stay in deeper waters and seeing one so close to the city was exciting. But instead of swimming back out to sea as he should, Humphrey turned the wrong way up the Sacramento River, and moved further away from the ocean. He swam into fresh water, managed to squeeze under a tiny bridge and got stuck in the narrowing river.
People knew that something had to be done quickly. Whales don’t do well in fresh water and Humphrey was starting to look sick. The Coast Guard and scientists quickly came up with a plan to save him. It’s hard to safely move something that’s 40 feet long and weighs approximately 79,000 pounds! So the Coast Guard and the scientists decided to use sound to help get Humphrey to swim in the right direction. Using a combination of irritating noises and the sounds of whales eating they got him to turn around and start swimming down the river. Everything was working until he got back to the little bridge. Humphrey was afraid to go under the bridge. The more they made the irritating noises by banging on the pipes, the angrier Humphrey became. He wanted to get away from the noise and couldn’t figure out what to do. Time for a new plan! Read the book to find out how they got Humphrey to swim back out to sea and what happened to him afterwards.
You can trace Humphrey’s journey using the end papers in the book and the notes include photographs and more factual information about Humphrey’s rescue. This inspiring story of a community coming together to rescue Humphrey was great to read aloud and prompted several discussions about how big Humphrey really was and the differences between freshwater and salt water animals. We’ll have lots talk about the next time we’re in San Francisco and will definitely try and see some whales!
Whale watching cruises are available from San Francisco year round, with different types of whales visible during different seasons. Gray whales migrate north from Mexico past San Francisco from January to April. Humpback whales are most visible from November to March. At other times of year, humpbacks, blue whales, sperm whales and orcas can be seen near the Farallon Islands 30 miles past the Golden Gate Bridge. There are many whale watching boat cruises available including SF Bay Whale Watching, San Francisco Whale Tours, and through the Oceanic society. You can also see the whales from land at several points along the coast such as the Point Reyes National Seashore about 35 miles north of San Francisco.