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Crews Get Ready to Help Entangled Humpback Whale Off Oregon / Washington Coast, But It Disappears

Published 07/18/23 at 7:51 p.m. - Published 07/19/23 at 7:21 p.m.
y Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Crews Get Ready to Help Entangled Humpback Whale Off Oregon / Washington Coast But Apparently Free

(Astoria, Oregon) [UPDATE: OFFICIALS CORRECT STATUS OF WHALE TO UNKNOWN] – Humans were trying to do the right thing along the edges of the Washington coast and Oregon coast for awhile, but Mother Nature may have taken over and solved the problem. More likely there's a bit of a mystery now.

A humpback whale about 20 miles off the mouth of the Columbia River found itself entangled in fishing gear and a small army of responders were getting ready to help out. However, it disappeared. (Photos US Coast Guard - they were small and low resolution so unfortunately this is the best possible rendering)

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The U.S. Coast Guard and the West Coast Large Whale Entanglement Response Program from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) received notice on Monday afternoon that a whale was caught in fishing lines just off that border between both the Oregon coast and Washington coast.

According to Coast Guard spokesperson Petty Officer Annika Hirschler, the initial move was for an MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter aircrew from Air Station Astoria to begin flyovers and take photos, determining the location and condition of the whale. That began Monday night, not long after the tip came in.

“The aircrew arrived on scene and located the whale, which appeared to be a juvenile humpback whale entangled by the tail in line fishing gear,” Hirschler said.

The whale was about two to three years old, the Coast Guard estimated. The fishing gear was later identified as halibut longline, based on buoy ID.

Humpback whale photo courtesy Seaside Aquarium. This is the time of year you often see humpbacks around Astoria

However, by Tuesday morning the situation was either resolved or it's a total mystery.

“A Coast Guard aircrew conducted an additional overflight Tuesday morning and was unable to relocate the whale,” Hirschler told Oregon Coast Beach Connection. “There have also been no additional reports of the entangled whale last night or this morning.”

No vessel had made it out there yet, but there were big plans being made. There were a few vessels that were set to arrive on Thursday.

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“Cascadia Research Collective, one of our Entanglement Program partners, would have been the response team, in their vessels,” said Matthew Burke, spokesman for NOAA.

Burke said they don't really know the status of the whale. They have not seen it, so there's no way to know for sure if it freed itself.

“All we know is that after the initial fly over, the whale hasn’t been seen again,” Burke told Oregon Coast Beach Connection. “We don't know the status of the whale. The Coast Guard flew over the area three times today and saw two adult whales and one juvenile whale and none of them were entangled. A crew may go out Friday to survey the area by boat, but that is yet to be determined. We will be having another meeting tomorrow afternoon to discuss if any further response is necessary. But for now, everyone is in agreement to stand down.”

UPDATE ON 7/19: Burke said there is no way of knowing for certain if that young whale with the older two was the same whale or not.

The NOAA entanglement response group said on its website that some whales are able to unsnare themselves from such objects, but many others wind up carrying them for days, months and even years. This results in injuries and at times infections, as well as hindering their ability to swim. Sometimes, the amount of extra energy it takes for a whale to swim in these cases causes them to starve because they cannot feed.


Photos below of past Humpback encounters in Astoria, courtesy Seaside Aquarium

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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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