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Biggest Oregon Coast Stories of 2015: Storms, Whales, Purple Stuff

Published 12/26/2015 at 5:13 AM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

(Oregon Coast) – Oregon Coast Beach Connection saw a record year of over two million readers, and at least half were in the news category. It's interesting to note that many of the stories with the largest audiences were about general travel overviews of beaches or science facts in this hauntingly beautiful part of the world, but Lincoln City's glass float drops also made for thousands of readers. (Photo above: masses of velella velella, courtesy Tiffany Boothe of Seaside Aquarium. This photo made international news this year).

2015 was full of strange and fabulous finds on the beaches and just offshore, and these really grabbed viewers from around the world as well as regionally.

The first of the year was relatively quiet. But April exploded. Among the first events was Red Skies in Oregon, the Coast, Come from Russian Wildfires. Some interesting colors were firing up sunsets throughout the western U.S., and particulates from Russia were the cause.

Whales did some extraordinary things this year, with amazing sightings, photographs and videos of Orcas popping up (Orcas, Their Babies on Oregon Coast, Caught on Video for example), and then remarkable encounters with Humpbacks later in the year. (Photo above courtesy Edith Hitchings).

It started in April with Killer whales appearing – as they often do that time of year – but this time they were photographed jumping near Depoe Bay and then gunning for prey at high speeds around Yachats.

About that time the Massive Velella Velella Invasion of 2015 hit. One of the largest inundations of a jellyfish called a velella velella (or Purple Sails) seemed to occur, but many experts believe there were just more eyes on it this time around, with the whole mobile phone element.

For a couple of weeks, the little creatures were literally covering all of the Oregon coast. It was difficult to step on any part of a beach without stepping on them. The patches were sometimes 50 or more yards wide or long. In many cases, they were piled two or three velella velella high.

In August and September, Humpbacks made a much bigger appearance than usual. It was a thrill ride for whale watchers for over a month. They were seen up the Columbia River, well into Astoria, and even darting in between boats. Often, they were spotted very close to shore at Cannon Beach's Haystack Rock. (Above: photo courtesy Tiffany Boothe, Seaside Aquarium).

These sightings and videos made international news.

In June, seven shallow earthquakes caused a bit of shake, rattle and roll beneath the waves off the Oregon coast in just a little over 24 hours, but they were not of sufficient size to create a tsunami and barely large enough to be felt onshore. These quake clusters happen occasionally and they are harmless.

June also meant the ugly news that razor clamming was shut down all over the coast due to toxins. It started with the area between Seaside and Warrenton shut down early, in the spring, and not reopening in fall as it normally does. Later, the entire coastline was closed off to razor clams. It is only back open recently.

August was full of action. The biggest single story for Oregon Coast Beach Connection was those mysterious purple waves that showed up, with the first tip coming in from readers. It wasn't a major story because it was worrisome in an environmental way, it was simply that none of the experts had ever seen anything like it. The buzz was heavy and even reached the university level. While not visible to the public, behind the scenes this was a really big deal. (Above: photo courtesy ODFW).

It made no impact in any other media, but it captured tens of thousands of readers here.

Eventually, one ODFW scientist decided it was a form of a salp (related to jellyfish), while another said it was a creature related to both called Doliolids, There is still some disagreement in Oregon's science world, and no one knows why they turned so purple. Some forms of salps have turned these beaches pink in the past, however.

Meanwhile, and through into November, a host of interesting beach finds continued to be made. There were salps with purple tips (a theme this year), baby seals and some objects with extraordinary amounts of sea life clinging to it. But the big news all over the beaches in social media to be the sizable occurrence of burrowing sea cucumbers just about everywhere – in huge piles in some places. (Photo above: a salp and a sea cucumber, courtesy Tiffany Boothe, Seaside Aquarium).

Scientists are a bit puzzled by this because the burrowing sea cucumbers almost never show up in such large numbers, and it's quite rare to spot even one or two a year.

By late November and through December, the prevailing story was all about the weather. First a long run of unusually sunny skies, and then the unwelcome storms full of high winds, huge surf and all that devastating flooding. The worst hit was Tillamook County where some roads were closed for days. Parts still remain damaged at this time, and there will be quite a lot of road reconstruction around Wheeler, Rockaway Beach, Oceanside and Garibaldi for some time to come.

What you'll be reading about soon: all those heavy waves made for massive erosion along the coastline. Some beaches are already showing bedrock in places where you don't normally see it. Such low sand levels often reveal hidden shipwrecks, old junk and odd geology. Where to stay in this area - Where to eat - Maps and Virtual Tours


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