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Klamath Whales

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For the first summer in their 60-year-plus residency, Trees of Mystery’s Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox were overshadowed on their stretch of Highway 101 by another -- albeit unintentional -- tourist trapping duo.

The mama gray whale and calf that conveniently occupied a stretch of the Klamath River underneath the 101 bridge earlier this year gained national attention and gave thousands of often accidental whale watchers an experience that may conceivably never be replicated.

For 53 days from late June to mid August, the unusual cetacean infestation was a spectacle you could have easily sold tickets to (and some tried). With the warm summer sun above, mama and baby continually and captivatingly swam side-by-side back and forth under the bridge while onlookers ran from one side to the other, all the while dodging peak-tourist season traffic, so as not to miss a moment of cute. Countless pictures were snapped. Poems and songs were written. One dude waded out into the river with a violin to perform a solo concert for mama.

It was an unforgettable period, for sure.

This story, of course, has a less than adorable ending. While the younger gray whale eventually found its way back out to more suitable digs, mama seemed determined to languish in the Klamath. Human intervention intended to drive her back to the ocean -- fire hoses, pipe-banging, killer whale sound recordings, etc. -- had no effect. This was the spot.

After weeks of deteriorating health, mama whale came to rest in (human) waist-deep water just downstream from the bridge. At around 4 a.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 16, she died.

-- Andrew Goff

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