Dead Whales, Molting Seals on Oregon Coast This Week
(Oregon Coast) - As a new find of a dead whale near Florence is made, more information emerges about various creatures that washed up on the north Oregon coast this past week.
An elephant seal or two, jellyfish, a dead porpoise and a dead whale on the Washington coast all showed up in the last few days. There are more set to show up as well, as it’s molting season for young seals.
It all began last weekend, as an elephant seal began hanging out in Gearhart on April 4. Tiffany Boothe from the Seaside Aquarium said the creature was molting, which causes them to head for dry land and throw sand on themselves.
“They do this to raise their body temperature,” Boothe said. “It is one of the reasons they come up onto the beach and out of the water. Raising their body temperature helps the molting process happen just a little quicker. Another reason they come up out of the water is because while molting, sometimes patches of skin will come off along with the fur, leaving small sores on the animal. The salt water just stings them.”
“We like to place informational signs around the animal so that well meaning people do not throw water on him.”
That elephant seal was gone by April 8, but another has shown up at Short Sands Beach near Manzanita.
Spring and summer is the molting season for yearling elephant seals, so expect to see more on the beaches of Oregon. It is vital to not disturb or touch these in any way, including throwing water on them.
Also on April 4, a large dead whale washed up in Illwaco, Washington at Jetty A at the Coast Guard Station.
The preliminary findings show that this whale was most like struck by a ship. The necropsy, which was started on April 7, will be completed on April 11.
It was a sub-adult male measuring 30 feet, said Boothe.
Gray whales are frequent visitors to the Oregon and Washington coast. They migrate up and down Oregon’s coast twice a year. In the winter, they migrate south down to Baja, their breeding grounds, to give birth. Euring the spring and summer they migrate to their feeding grounds, Alaska, rarely taking a break to eat.
Their round trip migration is about 10,000-12,000 miles.
They are filter feeders, using their baleen plates to strain out their food. Gray whales feed along the ocean floor, turning onto one side to suck in water, mud, and food. The whale then closes its mouth and the water and mud are forced out through the baleen. After the water is gone the whale swallows its meal.
During the 19th and early 20th centuries, whalers hunted the gray whale almost to extinction. They completely wiped out the western North Pacific and North Atlantic stocks. Luckily, the eastern North Pacific population, which has been legally protected since the mid 1940’s, recovered. Their populations have grown to approximately 20,000-22,000 individuals.
Boothe said a dead harbor porpoise was just picked up Seaside Aquarium staff on Thursday, and large winds out of the west are bringing in lots of jellyfish.
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