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US Coast Guard Snags Video of Humpbacks Off S. Oregon Coast, Provides Insights

Published 09/20/22 at 6:20 PM
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

US Coast Guard Snags Video of Humpbacks Off S. Oregon Coast, Provides Insights

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(Coos Bay, Oregon) – Earlier this month, as US Coast Guard crews zipped out some 180 miles off the south Oregon coast to rescue a fishing vessel stranded without propulsion, they spotted something remarkable. A lifeboat brought in by the Coast Guard Cutter Stratton spotted a group of Humpback whales while returning to Coos Bay from their mission, snagging some exceptional video of them. (Photos sourced from US Coast Guard)

With the 66-foot Lodestar still in tow, they were close to port in Coos Bay / Charleston at this point. It was an occasion to break out the video recorders.

“We came across a pod of approximately 40-50 humpback whales making their way South about 12 miles offshore,” the USCG said on its Facebook post. “Talk about perfect timing to see something so spectacular! No one on the crew had ever seen a this type of whale, so it’s safe to say they’ll remember this forever!”

In the video, you only see about two or three of the whales, but they're putting on a show on this part of the south Oregon coast. Emerging from the water and spouting, they also appeared to moving along at quite a clip. (Story continues below)

Have you been lucky enough to see a whole pod of humpback whales migrating? We have! During our transit with the LODESTAR in tow, we came across a pod of approximately 40-50 humpback whales making their way South about 12 miles offshore. Talk about perfect timing to see something so spectacular! No one on the crew had ever seen a this type of whale, so it’s safe to say they’ll remember this forever! 🎥: MK1 Salo

Posted by U.S. Coast Guard Station Coos Bay on Monday, September 12, 2022

The Lodestar had been stuck at sea for about two days when help finally arrived. The two-man crew were fine, but had been trapped in rather choppy, stormy waters until the Cutter Stratton could make it there. About 40 miles offshore from Coos Bay, the motor lifeboat took over the towing. (See Coast Guard Rescues Vessel Stranded in Storm Off S. Oregon Coast, Coos Bay )

Humpbacks are not a super common sight off the Oregon coast, though there are plenty of them out there. They're just not usually seen in great numbers close to shore – not nearly as frequently as gray whales. So, this was a special occasion for anyone.

There may, however, be some different aspects of whale behavior going on here. Oregon Coast Beach Connection asked Jim Rice, a biologist with OSU / Hatfield Marine Science Center and Marine Mammal Stranding Network, and he offered some insights and details.

They're not really a pod, it turns out, and it's doubtful the humpbacks were migrating.

“I do know that it’s common for them to aggregate off the Oregon coast this time of year as they forage on abundant prey,” Rice told Oregon Coast Beach Connection. “I would suspect that the whales mentioned in this post were feeding and not migrating. Also, baleen whales like humpbacks do not live in organized 'pods' in the way that many toothed whales (including dolphins) do. When they do get together in large groups like this it’s typically because they are exploiting a shared resource – rather than existing or traveling as an extended family group.”

In other words, there was an all-you-can-eat buffet out there for the humpbacks and word got out among them.

This sighting is also interesting in that around this time of year humpbacks are often loitering around the Astoria area of the north Oregon coast / south Washington coast, feeding on baitfish that flood the region. That hasn't materialized this year, however.

According to Tiffany Boothe of Seaside Aquarium, they are known for breaching and their complex whale songs. They can live up to 50 years in the wild, reaching their reproductive stage at five to ten years old. On average, they weigh about 40 tons. You find Humpbacks in all major oceans around the planet, she said, but each population segment has their own individual migration patterns and home waters.

“Regional humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangilae) can be spotted breaching (jumping out of the water) and slapping the water with their tail and pectoral fins during their 3,000-mile migration between northern Alaskan waters and breeding grounds of Hawaii,” she said. “These sixty-foot-long mammals can be identified by an obvious hump, a knobby head and long pectoral fins which can reach up to fifteen feet across. Other identifiable features include a white underbelly and white markings under their fins and tail fluke.” MORE HUMPBACK PHOTOS BELOW

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Photo courtesy Seaside Aquarium

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