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Other Gray Whales Killed by Orcas Found on Oregon Coast, Revealing More Science

Published 06/19/23 at 4:51 p.m.
y Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Three Other Gray Whales Killed by Orcas Found on Oregon Coast, Revealing More

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(Oregon Coast) – There has been heaps of killer whale activity along the Oregon coast this spring, and this has resulted in some compelling finds and moments. It turns out, not all of that has been public. Now, new facts about their visits offshore have come to light, including there have been more gray whale killings than we knew about. (Photo Seaside Aquarium: baby gray whale on June 3 at Gearhart, deterimined to be subject of killer whale predation)

Note: see part two Expert on Oregon Coast Orcas: Why So Many Sightings, Practice Kills, Who, More.

In actuality, records are more or less being broken along this shoreline for killer whale sightings and interactions, and it's slowly turning into some archetypal wild tales from the sea.

Josh McInnes, with the Marine Mammal Research Unit Institute for the Oceans Fisheries in British Columbia, also runs the high-profile Facebook group Oregon Coast Killer Whale Monitoring Program . He told Oregon Coast Beach Connection there have been two other killings of gray whales by orcas than were previously released since the very well-documented one near Depoe Bay on May 8. (Dozens Watch and Document Orcas Attack, Kill Baby Whale on Oregon Coast: More Videos)

There's even more if you count just outside the Oregon border. The first happened at Crescent City, California, where a gray washed up in late March and was determined to be from orca predation. The second was the May 8 event – which involved a whopping twelve orcas. The third happened again in Crescent City, when another gray whale washed up there.

Also in May, a dead gray whale calf was seen floating near Sea Lion Caves near Florence.

Then, the latest was another gray whale calf that landed around Gearthart in early June. That makes a total of four grays killed in this region.

In all cases, necropsies showed the telltale signs of scrapping with orcas and losing. However, what's just as interesting is the fact some of these gray whales wash up without the fights with orcas being seen, sometimes with no obvious orca presence at all.

“They will sometimes get away, and you know, by that point they may have had injuries that are so severe or they're so stressed they end up beaching themselves and dying,” McInness said.

They're apparently lurking out off the Oregon coast these days as much as they are making impressions with the huge list of people seeing them. The Facebook page has wracked up over 10,000 followers now.

For the June 3 find at Seaside, no one saw the killing but there were a handful of killer whales moving off Cannon Beach not long before. No one saw anything with the gray found near Sea Lion Caves, as well as one of the Crescent City carcasses.

How do they know it was a killer whale killing?

Gray whale found in January on south coast / Jim Rice, Marine Mammal Stranding Network

“We look for any sort of abdominal bruising,” McInnes said. “If there's broken ribs inside, you'll know from the outer appearance as well. You look at the pectoral fins and flippers, and with the flukes we often see things like lacerations or chunks of tissue missing from those areas.”

McInness said that orcas like to grab onto flippers, the pectoral fins or the flukes and keep their prey from moving.

“So these are the things that you kind of look for,” he said. “And sometimes with gray whales, larger whales: killer whales will often try to remove the lower jaw and tongue. These are kind of the big red flags that it was a killer whale predation.”

It's interesting to note there was another young gray whale found dead near Winchester Bay in January, also from an orca attack.

The May 8 event off Otter Rock / courtesy Jaklyn Larsen Photography

In a way, all kinds of records are being broken here on the Oregon coast for orca sightings, but then there wasn't much of a network of eyes on the ocean before like this, either. Still, McInness gave up the remarkable stat that from March through June there have been 41 different days with killer whale sightings on this coast. 34 different whales were ID'd in that time. And then there were the scuffles seen out at sea, with orcas attacking whales several times out there, but usually they got away.

May 8 was a major first for the area: those 12 orcas attacking the mom and gray whale calf was something never documented so completely in this area.

Questions then arise like: are there more killer whales out there now? Which pods? Why do they not eat all their kill? And what do you need to do to spot one?

There is definitely more from McInnes and his colleagues. See Expert on Oregon Coast Orcas: Why So Many Sightings, Practice Kills, Who, More.

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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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