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Unusually High Number of Sharks Wash Up on N. Oregon Coast


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Secrets of the Season

Unusually High Number of Sharks Wash Up on N. Oregon Coast

Shark carcass found last year by Seaside Aquarium (photo Tiffany Boothe)

(Seaside, Oregon) – For reasons that can only be guessed at, an unusual amount of dead sharks have been washing up on north Oregon coast beaches in the last few weeks. Most have appeared in a stretch that’s roughly 40 miles - from Rockaway Beach to Fort Stevens – although one showed up on the southern Washington coast.

Staff at the Seaside Aquarium have been either keeping track of the reports or taking the carcasses in, although one appeared to be alive when it initially washed up.

Tiffany Boothe, education specialist at the aquarium, said four salmon sharks and four soupfin sharks washed up in an approximate four-week period, from July 22 to August 22.

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“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 the beaches.”

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 more fish-eaters.

Salmon shark found by aquarium

“These sharks are fish-eaters,” Boothe said. “We’ve had warmer waters this year – warmer than usual. I don’t know if it’s global warming or not, but it’s probably just because we’ve had nothing but south winds, and the south winds warm things up. The tuna are probably coming in because of that. They’re about a mile offshore, but that brings in the fish-eaters.”

Boothe also thinks it’s possible the shark carcasses are the result of fishermen accidentally snagging them. “They could be by-catch,” she said. “They get caught in their nets, and the fishermen throw them over. They don’t survive that because sharks are really quite sensitive.”

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Salmon shark on north coast beach

Near the end of July, the much-publicized salmon shark that washed up in Rockaway Beach was next. Boothe wasn’t totally convinced that was a salmon shark, however. After seeing video footage of it, she said it looked more like a Great White. “The snout looked all wrong,” she said. “And it was really big. I’ve never seen a big salmon shark in person, and I didn’t see this one in person. So I can’t say for sure. But to me it looks more like it was a Great White.”

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Cannon Beach video correspondent Dave Pastor took that footage, which was aired all over Portland TV stations. Neither he nor the aquarium know what happened to it after it washed up.

Sunset Beach

Another salmon shark washed up on Arch Cape on August 6, apparently still alive for a small period of time. “It was about four to five feet long, and they found it in a pool of blood,” Boothe said. “It was alive when it was first reported, but it later disappeared. We don’t know if someone took it or if it washed back into the ocean.”

On August 15, a soupfin washed up in Fort Stevens State Park, just south of Astoria. On August 18, another dead soupfin showed up on a beach somewhere north of Gearhart. Aquarium staff weren’t sure as to the exact location as they never actually dealt with it themselves and only recorded the report.

August 21 and 22 saw a different salmon shark on both days, washing up at the Tolovana Beach area of Cannon Beach.

Possible sightings of sharks in Rockaway Beach led to a posted warning earlier this month, although this was unrelated to the dead sharks washing ashore

On August 23, a soupfin shark drifted in around Beard’s Hollow, on the Washington coast.

Three of the sharks have wound up in a freezer at the aquarium, awaiting donation to local schools for science labs.

“We’ve been really busy this summer, and these are not our top priority,” Boothe said. “So we don’t always get out and collect them.”

Boothe said salmon sharks are related to Mako sharks and Great Whites, and they are presumed to be only fish-eaters. But there’s a chance they’re not. “There’s never been any documentation of them biting a human,” she said.

Boothe theorized the north Oregon coast could be experiencing the same problem as central California’s coast, where lots of dead sharks have shown up.

Arch Cape

“Scientists there have collected nearly a dozen dead juvenile salmon sharks in the past month,” she said. “Stanford University and Long Marine Lab at UC Santa Cruz have performed necropsies on the sharks they collected. Their findings were puzzling. All of the sharks had a brain infection caused by a bacterial disease called encephalitis, though they don’t know the source of the bacteria. They’re not sure if they caught it somehow or the bacteria was already inherent in their systems.”

Boothe said soupfin sharks can be found in temperate and subtropical seas, in the eastern Pacific: Canada to Baja. “They are a highly migratory species with small schools migrating toward the poles in the summer and then back toward the equator in the winter,” she said. “Soupfins can be found in the surf or at depths over 1,700 feet. Feeding on a variety of fish, the soupfin sharks are not considered a threat to humans. They are highly prized for their fins, which are the main ingredient in shark fin soup.”

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