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Baby Gray Whale at Bandon Confirmed Killed by Orcas, Rarely Documented on Oregon Coast

Published 5/08/24 at 3:35 a.m. - Updated 5/08/24 at 3:25 p.m.
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection Staff

(Bandon, Oregon) – [UPDATED] - There's absolutely no doubt now that orca season is in full swing on the Oregon coast, and it may end up as dramatic as last year's. (Photo Jim Rice, Marine Mammal Stranding Network)

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A baby gray whale washed up in Bandon on Monday morning, and it turns out to be the result of orca predation.

These kinds of incidents involving the transient orcas that are in the area are rarely documented, and until recently they were never seen. Only one other incident in recent years is as such in this region.

Confirmation came late Monday night from Jim Rice, head of the Marine Mammal Stranding Network.

“Yes - it’s a gray whale calf that recently died due to killer whale predation,” Rice said.

The calf has the tell-tale scratch marks of killer whales, which are in the area to primarily hunt down seals and sea lions. However, they are known to hunt baby gray whales, which are still migrating through the region.

UPDATE: Oregon State Parks and Recreation Department said it is looking to remove the body for further study. Local tribes have first dibs and used it to revive a ceremony thousands of years old.

Last year, numerous witnesses saw and documented a pod of this special branch of transient orcas attacking a mother gray and her calf. The calf was eventually killed after hours of epic fighting on the mother's part. Dozens Watch and Document Orcas Attack, Kill Baby Whale on Oregon Coast: More Videos

Photo Jim Rice, Marine Mammal Stranding Network

The body washed up within a couple of days on the central coast.

At the time, Rice told Oregon Coast Beach Connection a surprising fact about how killer whales operate: “Orcas often only consume a small amount of each carcass they’ve killed.”

This appears to be the case with the baby calf at Bandon: you can see where some of its insides have been torn out, but not much else is missing from the body. Killer whales often use these hunts as practices and it is not always about getting a meal.

Look for further updates on this story later today on Oregon Coast Beach Connection as more is learned. It's possible regional experts will have a good guess on which pod killed the baby gray.

The Oregon Coast Killer Whale Monitoring Program has documented a steady stream of orca sightings along the coastline since the beginning of April. The transients are definitely here.

Click on photo to see full shot - content warning

Some have even been identified by their markings, which included some of that pod that did the killing last year.

Sightings appear to have kickstarted on April 3. Some of the other sightings noted by the public:

Photo Jim Rice, Marine Mammal Stranding Network

Around April 12, a handful were spotted in the Coos Bay area.

Between April 20 and 23, a few were spotted around the Mouth of the Columbia.

April 24 there were numerous sightings around Lincoln City's northern waters.

Around that time, Depoe Bay's Dockside Charters Sportfishing and Whale Watching spotted four on the central coast. See video

Near the jetties at Reedsport, on April 30, some reported seeing them chasing or at least scoping out sea lions resting on the rocks.

On May 3, there were at least four orcas abut six miles west of Newport.

These transient orcas typically shut down the show around June as seal pup birthing season winds down.

2023 saw some incredible observations, including a first for all regional experts - at least in this area. A mama gray and her calf got stuck in the surfline at a Tillamook County beach, and managed to get free as witnesses were filming. 3 Gray Whales Strand on Oregon Coast: Calf from Orca Attack; Mother and Calf Swim Away

Rice said that was a definite first for Oregon, and he said it was quite possible the whales were trying to hide from marauding orcas when they became stranded.

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Andre' GW Hagestedt is editor, owner and primary photographer / videographer of Oregon Coast Beach Connection, an online publication that sees over 1 million pageviews per month. He is also author of several books about the coast.

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