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Oregon Coast Officials Urge Mark Your Crabbing Gear After Baby Whale Entanglement

Published 07/17/22 at 7:25 PM PST
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Oregon Coast Officials Urge Mark Your Crabbing Gear After Baby Whale Entanglement

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(Charleston, Oregon) – Early in the month, a fisherman spotted something unusual just off the Oregon coast town of Newport. It was a baby whale entangled pretty badly in some crabbing gear. And not just any baby whale here: it was an orca – a killer whale. State authorities say this was the first time an entangled juvenile orca was ever encountered along these shores. (Photo courtesy Ifish.net)

Now, the incident has marine biologists and fishery managers at Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) a little concerned and definitely on the offense. It's their job to make sure such deadly entanglements don't happen along the Oregon coast, and indeed they've been lessening in frequency over the last few years. This one, however is a new find. So authorities are issuing warnings to make sure you mark your gear when you place it into the waters off these shores.

ODFW's Caren Braby said it is not known if the baby orca was dead before it became stuck in the net gear or it died prior to that. Braby, who leads ODFW’s Marine Resources Program, said it is also unclear in which state or what coastal area the gear was from.

That's where more of the problems come in.

“The gear wasn’t marked with the owner’s identity, so it is not legal gear as per Oregon regulations. In fact, the gear is not consistent with regulations in Washington or California either,” Braby said. “The recovered gear had a sport-type crab pot and was relatively unfouled, suggesting it was deployed recently.”

Initially discovered some 30 miles off Newport, a few days later it was down around Bandon on the south Oregon coast. Its tail was wrapped in the netting in about 50 feet of line.


An orca whale farther north, photo courtesy Josh McInness

Michael Milstein with NOAA said when it was spotted outside Bandon, it was there another fishermen removed the gear, after which officials sent it off to OSU for testing. They're hoping to find pieces of the whale still on it and test that to discover which type of orca and maybe more information about its health.

Witnesses said the whale was already quite decomposed and smelled badly.

“Recreational crab pots or rings used in the open ocean water and bays must have surface buoys for buoyancy so the gear can be retrieved,” Braby said. “By regulation, the buoys must be marked with the owners first and last name or business name and at least one of the following: permanent address, phone number, ODFW ID number or vessel identification number.”

Braby said this information must be visible, legible, and permanent. These regulations do not apply to recreational crabbing from piers, jetties, or the beaches along the Oregon coast or Washington coast, where the pot is attached to shore while it is fishing. Out in the waters, however, the rules of ID'ing apply.

The Oregon coast region has seen stunning numbers of orcas marauding along the waters this spring and summer, all here taking advantage of seal pup season and the abundance of those and other wildlife to feed on, which has included some baby gray whales in migration.

It's difficult to tell if the huge numbers are happening on their own or it's simply that a large segment of the human population is now keeping an eye out for them along the shorelines – and photographing and documenting on at least one high-profile killer whale Facebook group.

ODFW said marked surface buoys help managers identify which fisheries and areas along the coast are associated with marine life entanglements. More importantly, proper marking of buoys and floats helps managers develop ways to prevent entanglements in the future.

See ODFW’s marine life entanglement webpage to find out more about ODFW’s efforts to reduce entanglement.

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