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Join Us on Twitter for a Live Chat with 'Big Miracle Worker' Dave Withrow


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February 23, 2012

To highlight the 40th anniversary of the Marine Mammal Protection Act, this Thursday, NOAA Fisheries is hosting a live chat on Twitter with NOAA marine mammal biologist Dave Withrow. In 1988, Withrow played a important role in "Operation Breakthrough," a two-week gray whale rescue off the coast of Barrow, Alaska. This rescue effort caught the world’s attention and is the inspiration behind the film Big Miracle, which was recently released by Universal Pictures.

What: Use Twitter to chat directly with NOAA biologist Dave Withrow

When: Thursday, February 23 from 2:30-3:30p.m. EST

How: Tweet questions to @usfisheriesgov using tag: #whalechat

Thursday, February 23 
2:30-3:30p.m. EST 

Tweet your questions to @usfisheriesgov 
tag #whalechat.


Dave Withrow (pictured, center) in 1988
Dave Withrow (pictured, center) in 1988

Dave Withrow in 2012, during an National Public Radio interview about his Operation Breakthrough experiences.
Dave Withrow in 2012, during an National Public Radio interview about his Operation Breakthrough experiences.

Meet Dave Withrow, Marine Mammal Biologist

Dave Withrow graduated from the University of Washington in 1973 with BS in Fisheries and a BA  in Psychology (animal behavior).  His started out as a killer whale and dolphin trainer for the Seattle Marine Aquarium. He went into the Peace Corps (1973-75), stationed in Casablanca, Morocco where he was assigned to a United Nations Fishery Development Project. Once there, the Moroccan Government found out he had Aquarium experience and appointed him director of the Casablanca Aquarium, Africa’s largest.  Dave returned to Seattle in 1976 and was hired by NOAA’s Alaska Fisheries Science Center, National Marine Mammal Laboratory in Seattle. In 1982, Withrow completed his MS degree in Fisheries working on Steller Sea Lions in the Aleutian Islands. Given his experience with arctic whales, in 1988, Withrow participated in "Operation Breakthrough," the rescue that inspired the (2012) film, "Big Miracle. After this event, Withrow returned and eventually became the Arctic Whales Task Leader, working on bowhead, beluga, and gray whales.  He also served on the International Whaling Commission's Scientific Committee.  In recent years Withrow has been working with seals, particularly those associated with Alaska’s receding glaciers, ice seals in the Bering Sea, and a unique group of “freshwater” seals in Alaska’s Lake Iliamna.

NOAA's Big Miracle Worker

On February 3, Universal Pictures premiered Big Miracle, a new movie inspired by “Operation Breakthrough,” the real-life rescue of three gray whales trapped by sea ice off the coast of Barrow, Alaska, in 1988. Dave Withrow, a NOAA Fisheries marine mammal biologist, participated throughout the two-week rescue. We recently caught up with Withrow, who still works for NOAA’s Alaska Fisheries Science Center, to talk about his experience, nearly 25 years ago. Read More

40 Years of Protecting Whales

This year, the Marine Mammal Protection Act is marking its 40th anniversary. Under the act, NOAA is responsible for responding to stranded and distressed marine mammals, including gray whales like those stranded outside of Barrow nearly 25 years ago. It also happens to be the 20th anniversary of the Marine Mammal Heath and Stranding Response Program, which manages regional stranding networks and investigates marine mammal incidents as they occur. 

NOAA would like to remind people to help protect whales by following the recommended viewing guidelines, which include staying at least 100 yards (300 feet) away from large whales and 50 yards (150 feet) from other marine mammals like dolphins and seals. Attempting to touch or handle marine mammals can injure the animal and put you at risk. 

Please report stranded or distressed animals to your local stranding network or local authorities. Trained professionals will help animals in need of assistance, for the safety and wellbeing of both the animals and people. A full list of these contacts can be found on our website.