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Decomposed Whale Beaches
on Oregon Coast, Officials Puzzle Over Sharks
|Disgusting sight and smell: the corpse of the whale is so decomposed
Photos by Tiffany Boothe, Seaside Aquarium
(Seaside, Oregon) – Staff at the Seaside
Aquarium have had their hands full this past week with having to respond
to various creatures both large and small washing up on north Oregon coast
beaches, sometimes with pungent, even hideous results. Baby sharks, a
badly decomposed porpoise, a baby seal and a horribly decayed whale have
all washed up around that area in the last few days, causing a variety
of problems and investigations.
At the same time, aquarium staff have been keeping a closer
eye on what seems to be a growing situation on the entire Oregon coast:
an unusually high number of dead sharks washing up on shore. This has
also yielded a startling discovery.
most high profile situation involves one very nasty decomposed whale that
washed up Tuesday on Del Rey Beach – just north of Gearhart.
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It was so badly decomposed that staff from the Seaside
Aquarium had few clues from which to identify it. Manager Keith Chandler
guessed it might be a gray whale, although Deb Duffield from the Marine
Mammal Stranding Network headquarters at Portland State University said
she thought it might be a humpback whale. She received the photos via
email from Tiffany Boothe at the Seaside Aquarium.
It was about ten feet long and thoroughly unrecognizable,
He said it could be the dead whale that was seen last week
floating about two miles offshore from Depoe Bay.
|Shark carcass found last year by Seaside
Aquarium (photo Tiffany Boothe)
The whale was extremely bad smelling, said Chandler. “It’s
just a hunk of rotting flesh,” he said. “It’s just a
blob. The skin is so bad and slimy it looks like fur.”
They could not get near it on Tuesday because of high tide.
“The last thing you want is that decomposed thing to roll over on
you or just touch you, when it’s being knocked around by the tide,”
Boothe and Chandler will attempt to collect flesh and blubber
samples from the creature at low tide on Wednesday morning. There is a
possibility representatives from the Marine Mammal Stranding Network will
come out to investigate as well.
There is no word how it may be disposed of.
Aquarium staff also found another dead shark Tuesday morning
– the sixth in five weeks. There were eight reports of dead sharks
on the north coast in the four-week period between July 20 and August
23. Two more have been reported washing up since then, including the one
Tuesday, also found on Del Rey Beach.
Another was reported Friday at Sunset Beach, about 3 feet,
eight inches long. Both of the more recent sharks were salmon sharks.
|Salmon shark found by aquarium in the past
“It’s the most we’ve ever seen in such
a short period of time,” Boothe said. “Usually, when they
die, they sink to the bottom. But the dead ones have been washing up on
Why or how so many have been showing up on shore is a mystery,
but Boothe and others at the aquarium believe it probably has to do with
warmer waters this year bringing in more tuna. That, in turn, will attract
Three of the sharks have wound up in a freezer at the aquarium,
awaiting donation to local schools for science labs.
Originally, it was believed that four salmon sharks and
four soupin sharks were discovered in various areas, from Rockaway Beach
up to southern Washington.
|Sunset Beach, where a live shark was seen
The first shark showed up in Rockaway Beach earlier this
summer, causing quite a media stir, since it was still alive and in a
pool of blood. It later disappeared.
Boothe recently discovered that shark turned out to be
Great White, while it was previously thought to be a salmon shark. Boothe
sent images of that shark to John Rupp of the Point Defiance Aquarium
in Tacoma recently – a nationally recognized expert on sharks -
and he confirmed it was a Great White.
Staff at the aquarium theorized that this year’s
warmer waters have brought in more tuna, which in turn have brought in
more sharks to the area – thus more will wash up dead.
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The problem isn’t limited to the north coast. Bill
Hanshumaker, Public Marine Education Specialist with the Hatfield Marine
Science Center in Newport, said an alarmingly large amount of baby salmon
sharks have washed up on the central coast.
“I have had more than a half dozen reports of dead
baby great white sharks,” Hanshumaker said. “Without exception,
these turn out to be baby salmon shark pups. Though I typically see one
or two every summer, this year’s higher number of dead pups is unusual.
Salmon Shark pup are identified by their secondary keel and non-serrated
Something similar has been happening in central California,
where a large amount of dead baby sharks have been washing up there as
well. But necropsies done on the creatures have revealed they had encephalitis,
a disease of the brain.
|Decomposed porpoise at Arch Cape Friday
As if that wasn’t enough, Seaside Aquarium staff
also had to do deal with a dead and severely decomposed porpoise last
Friday in Arch Cape, a shark that was still alive and a baby seal resting
around Cannon Beach.
It was a simple harbor porpoise that showed up on Friday
at the beach a few miles south of Cannon Beach, but dealing with its severely
rotted corpse was a challenge. Staff put it in a series of connecting
bags to keep it from falling apart while transporting it.
Chandler said the whale cast the challenging porpoise in
a different light. “That whale made the rotting porpoise look attractive,”
|Seaside's cove area
The porpoise, like the whale, had been rotting at sea for
some time. “Things are only on the beach for a short time,”
Boothe said. “Maybe only a couple of days go by before we get to
respond to them, and it’s rare that it’s that long. So there’s
not much time to decay.”
Harbor porpoises are extremely common to the Oregon coast,
Boothe said. “On any given day, if you’re looking out over
the cove area of Seaside for about a half hour, you’ll see a group
of them. They blend in with the surfers sometimes, but they’re there.”
The salmon shark was an odd story, having washed up around
Sunset Beach – north of Gearhart – but it apparently was still
alive and kicking.
Boothe said it was reported to be seen still moving in
the surf. They got the call about 10:15 a.m., and by 10:45, when they
arrived, the shark was gone. “There are a lot of tide pools and
sand bars there,” Boothe said. “It probably got caught on
one feeding, then probably swam out.”
|Boothe poses with an adorable baby seal found last year on a Seaside
A baby seal also wandered up to the northern beaches of
Cannon Beach on the same day – Friday - just as the big tourist
weekend was getting into full gear. Boothe and Chandler tried to reach
the seal to put up warning signs, asking the public to leave it alone.
But traffic in the area was so bad they had to abandon that task. Instead,
Boothe got a member of the Haystack Awareness Program to go out put up
the warning signs.
“We got the call about 3 p.m., and the baby seal
had left by 6 p.m.,” Boothe said. The woman set with the task of
putting up the warning sign said the seal pup disappeared when she came
near with the sign.
on the sharks (before the confirmation of the Great White) can be seen
can be found on this subject, and other coastal oddities happening recently.
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