If the large female gray whale that has resided inside the Klamath River for nearly 50 days ever leaves, who knows what kind of memories she'll take.
Because a circus atmosphere now prevails, they could include the rhythmic beat of native drums, courtesy of the Yurok Tribe; or the reading of prayer, or harmonious tunes strummed on a ukulele by a man on a standup-surfboard.
The whale and her calf made headlines after they were first seen inside the Northern California river on June 23, having taken a right turn into the waterway instead of continuing north from Mexico's nursing grounds to Arctic home waters.
Marine mammal experts, working with the Yurok Tribe, tried several methods -- mostly after the calf swam out of the river two weeks ago -- to persuade the mother to leave. These included banging on pipes, spraying water cannon and broadcasting killer whale sounds.
Because nothing worked, experts now are simply monitoring the movements and condition of the 45-foot cetacean, which is somewhat thin but has been feeding on the river bottom and apparently boasts good health.
"She looks about typical for a female that has just finished lactating," said Sarah Wilkin, stranding coordinator for the National Marine Fisheries Service. "She's not super fat, but she does not look emaciated."
This is remarkable considering that Friday will be her 50th day in the river. That's believed to be longer than any other whale has spent in a river, and it's more than twice as long as the three weeks "Humphrey" the humpback whale spent in California's San Joaquin-Sacramento Delta in 1985.
Surely, no river whale beforehand has been so showered with so much affection, especially since scientists have abandoned attempts to drive the whale to sea. People have swum alongside the whale; they've also canoed and kayaked with the leviathan.
She has been serenaded not only by ukulele but by flute and violin. Poems have been written about and for the whale. Song and chants have been issued and prayers read in the hope that Mama will leave before the water level drops much farther, placing her in jeopardy.
Photographer Ashala Tylor, who chronicles events regarding Mama on her blog and has a Flickr page devoted to the whale, describes this approach as "holistic."
Said Wilkin: "There are definitely some folks who are trying various things. It is part of the Yurok reservation so there have been some cultural practices and efforts from cultural leaders, and then there are the members of the general public."
Intentionally approaching whales is illegal. So is acting in any manner that can be perceived as harassment. But so far enforcement agents have issued only warnings, while an outreach effort intends to educate locals and visitors that it's probably best just to leave the whale alone.
Said Dave Hillemeier, a fisheries manager with the Yurok Tribe: "People are getting really close, swimming, wading and kayaking. That's pretty dangerous because that's a 30-ton animal and it could inadvertently cause a lot of damage to somebody, so people really need to respect the fact that it is an extremely large wild animal and give the animal its space."
That, however, is not likely to happen unless the whale decides to leave the river.
-- Images are courtesy of ©Ashala Tylor and protected by copyright laws. Those interested in publishing Tylor's images should contact her directly