But a marine biologist at the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration in Seattle thinks he may know the answer. The revelation casts a bit of a shadow on the otherwise heartwarming rescue effort that brought together oil men, Russian icebreakers, U.S.
The true story was also documented recently by Anchorage Daily News reporter Richard Mauer, who covered the 1988 rescue and dug up his old notebooks to describe the massive endeavor. Mauer also writes in detail about the role of the oil company executive who flew in and tried to move mountains to get heavy oil equipment on scene to help the stranded whales. Withrow was one of two NOAA marine mammal biologists and several other agency officials dispatched to the far northern tip of Alaska at Point Barrow, where an Inupiat whale hunter had spotted three young gray whales clinging to survival near a small hole in a sheet of ice that had otherwise closed in around them on all sides.
The whales already had their noses and chins bloodied, in one case to the bone, from ramming the ice to keep their small breathing hole open.
As reporters flew in and started filing stories, Withrow was asked to go up and help clarify some of the misleading information about gray whales that was coming out. He also included recordings of orcas, or killer whales, which prey on gray whales and which Withrow figured might be useful if needed to drive the whales toward safety.
Withrow asked someone to pick up the equipment from the airport and take it ahead to Barrow so it would be ready when he arrived.
The guiding part worked -- not so much because of the gray whale breeding tapes, as it turned out, but because of some small pumps donated by a company in Minnesota.

At the end of the rescue effort, one of the whales was spotted from a helicopter in the ice-clogged channel that was the final path to safety, Withrow said.
Both whales, already weakened from their ordeal, would have had a tough swim through the ice floes and down to safety in California and Mexico. In most cases, he said, gray whales are identified by patterns of barnacles on their skin, and barnacles don't stay the same for long. What about Drew Barrymore's dramatic dive into the water to help untangle one of the whales, supposedly caught in some fishing net?
King Herod (voiced by Anton Lesser), Judas Iscariot (David Thewlis) and Mary Magdalene (Miranda Richardson) are all on hand to play their integral parts in the extraordinary life story of Jesus Christ (Ralph Fiennes), from his birth to his miraculous healing powers. The young whale, he believes, may have been scared off when someone mistakenly played recordings of killer whales, a sound that would terrify a gray whale, or at least create an urgent desire to leave.
One of the highlights in his tale is the Soviet icebreaker officer who, at the tail end of the Cold War, invited American reporters aboard his vessel.
Played by Ted Danson in the movie, that executive was Bill Allen, who later became famous when he went to prison for paying bribes to a variety of Alaska officials in a corruption scandal that included former U.S. The first instinct of some village leaders in Barrow was to shoot the animals and put them out of their misery -- but no one wanted to. Before he left Seattle, he shipped ahead some underwater sound projection equipment and tape recordings of the sound of gray whales breeding in Mexico -- a sound he hoped would lure the stranded whales to new holes that were being dug into the ice to help lure the creatures back toward open water.

But when he got there, he found that someone not affiliated with NOAA had already unpacked the equipment and had actually begun broadcasting one of the tapes into the water -- the killer whale sounds. A Soviet icebreaker cut a channel to open water in the Chukchi and Bering seas, and Eskimo workers on shore, aided by donated chain saws, succeeded in cutting a series of breathing holes to guide the two whales to the channel.
The company had developed the pumps for ice fishing, and rescuers found that the sound and turbulence of the pumps acted as a powerful attractant to the whales. It chronicles the encounter between Jesus and a sick girl named Tamar and Jairus, her father.
A heavyweight cast of voice-over talent, including Julie Christie, William Hurt and Ian Holm, breathes life into this claymation version of Biblical history. It then became relatively easy to attract the whales to new breathing holes as they were created. More than that, it is an warm and intelligent presentation about the life of Jesus – emminently watchable.

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