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Oregon Coast Seal Likely Chomped on by Great White Shark

 

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10/12/07

Secrets of the Season

Oregon Coast Seal Likely Chomped on by Great White Shark

Aquarium staff heave the seal corpse onto a stretcher

(Seaside, Oregon) – Early on Friday morning, another dead harbor seal washed ashore in Seaside. Normally, this isn’t anything particularly interesting or new for those in the Marine Mammal Stranding Network on the north Oregon coast – which responds to such incidents. But this time, an enormous, nearly two-foot hole in the body set this deceased seal apart from the numerous others that wash up periodically throughout the year.

Staff at the Seaside Aquarium comprise the north coast portion of the stranding network. They went out to pick up the creature around 2:30 p.m. and discovered the gaping hole in its back, surmising it was probably the work of a great white shark.

The seal was about four and a half feet long

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“It could have been an orca,” said Keith Chandler, manager of the aquarium. But it’s more likely a shark. A killer whale would likely mess the thing up a lot more, or eat the whole thing.”

Chandler said by looking at the size of the bite it had to be something about the size of a great white. Although salmon sharks are not known for eating mammals, and that aspect of their existence is somewhat debated, he said he believed it still could be a salmon shark that chomped on the seal. “Just because a lot of people don’t think it’s likely they eat mammals, doesn’t mean it’s true,” Chandler said. “But mainly, the reason I'm thinking that is that there are more salmon sharks out there.”

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Some great whites do wander around the waters off Oregon, but not too many, said Tiffany Boothe, with the aquarium.

Boothe and aquarium staffer Jenny Maxwell

Both Boothe and Chandler believed it had to be a shark, in spite of the unusual placement of the gap in the body. “They often swim upside down, so they probably weren’t paying attention when the shark came down on it,” Chandler said. “I’ve never seen a hole that big in a seal.”

The pair drove a pickup truck out onto the beach to retrieve the body, and instead of bagging it up immediately as they usually do, they put it on a stretcher and hauled it away. They did this to put on a bit of a show ‘n’ tell for other aquarium staff and some members of the public, as the truck sat in a parking lot behind the building.

A representative from Portland State University and the headquarters of the stranding network would later pick it up to do a thorough necropsy, and perhaps tell with better accuracy what kind of creature killed the seal.

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Boothe - and some other employees who had previous training or interest in biology – donned gloves and poked around the seal’s corpse, examining the wound itself, lungs, the liver and even the contents of its stomach.

Boothe examining the creature

“The entire backbone is gone,” Booth said. “It hasn’t been dead very long, either. You can tell by the eyes still having some color and still being there.”

Boothe found a piece of coral in its stomach.

Meanwhile, a pair of mothers with very young children came around to check it out, with the kids surprisingly captivated by the gruesome display.

Harbor seals are perhaps the most common mammal found on the Oregon coast.

A great white shark stranded in Rockaway early this summer, as did a spate of dead infant salmon sharks throughout the season.

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