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Names, Wordage Now Incorrect on Oregon Coast, Washington Coast: Haystack to Gulls

Published 10/19/22 at 5:14 AM
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Misnomers, Misnamed on Oregon Coast, Washington Coast: Haystack to Gulls

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(Long Beach, Washington) – Sometimes it's just annoying or uncomfortable to be corrected. Then again, there are situations where the wrong words just infiltrate the culture, and it gets just as annoying to have the wrong words floating about. (Above: photo copyright Oregon Coast Beach Connection, Pacific City's Haystack Rock at night. Historically it was known as Chief Kiawanda Rock.)

Such is the case with some things along the Oregon coast and Washington coast. Like seagulls and starfish are actually the wrong words for these things we commonly bump into. Haystack Rock on the Oregon coast has a few surprises and is maybe not quite what you think. Another surprise: the region's favorite wacky story about the Exploding Whale has another side to it that sort of changes things.

They're Gulls – Not Seagulls

If the Birds Aren't Real movement actually had one scientific element to it, this would be it. Seagulls aren't real: the actual word is gulls.

Not a lot of people know this yet, but birders and bird experts have found it annoying for quite a long time. It's not entirely known how the word got switched to “seagulls” along the line, but it's clearly been in use since well before Richard Bach wrote Jonathon Livingston Seagull just prior to 1970.

However, science experts like Tiffany Boothe of Seaside Aquarium say the misnomer is real and explains it comes down to scientific names.

“Yep, there are actually many different species of gulls that live near the sea - 28 types in North America to be precise, and not one of them is named seagull,” she said.

Most of those we see on the Washington coast and into Oregon are Western gulls.

This fact is still only just getting unburied, enough that you won't get corrected much if it all. But that's coming. It's going to be a bummer someday for many coastal businesses that have “seagull” in their name. Seagulls Don't Exist on Oregon / Washington Coast - Just Gulls (About Western Gull)

Seastars – Not Starfish


Sea star at Arch Cape, Oregon Coast Beach Connection

This is more commonly known, and the Correct-o-sauruses out on the internet do like to pounce on this.

According NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) this is real, very pure science.

Sea stars are not fish to any degree. They're echinoderms, which falls under the category of sand dollars and sea urchins. Part of what differentiates them from fish is the fact they have seawater pumping through them and not blood.

“Also, sea stars move by using tiny tube feet located on the underside of their bodies,” the agency said. “Adult sunflower sea stars can move at the astonishing speed of one meter per minute using 15,000 tube feet. Tube feet also help sea stars hold their prey.”

Besides that, the term echinoderms means they have five-point radial symmetry.

After all, you never heard the term “starfish wasting syndrome” last decade when that disease hit the population along the U.S. west coast.

Haystack Rock


Bandon's Haystack Rock in the distance, courtesy Manuela Durson - see Manuela Durson Fine Arts for more

There are still many who get confused by the fact there are two Haystack Rocks on the Oregon coast, and some online still occasionally fight with you on that. However, there are in fact THREE Haystack Rocks. There are those famous ones at Cannon Beach and Pacific City, but there's also a third down in Bandon.

Here's another fun fact: Pacific City's Haystack Rock sometimes gets referred to by its original name, Chief Kiawanda Rock. Plenty in town and elsewhere in the state feel it should remain that, named after a local head of the tribe long ago. Those numbers are growing, so there may be an actual name change movement in the future. Three Different Rocks With One Name on Oregon Coast: Bandon, Pacific City, Cannon Beach


Another misnomer aspect of Cannon Beach's Haystack Rock is that for a few decades it was known as the “third largest monolith in the world.” However, when Oregon Coast Beach Connection found in 2007 there was no actual category like that, the claim slowly faded from view. It's not even possible to claim such a thing regarding monoliths, because that term is too broad.

Back then, longtime locals did not even know where the claim came from; it had simply been in use since at least the '80s.

Florence's Exploding Whale Wasn't the First

If you'll excuse the pun, this is where history gets sticky.

That famed Exploding Whale in 1970 was not the first instance of such an “overblown” endeavor. There's no footage of it but a fair amount of record: Warrenton did the same thing in 1937 when a carcass washed up closer to the Columbia River.

This is a much more complex story, and interesting because it wanders into all sorts of laughable legal wrangling. Coverage of the actual dynamiting gets about as amusing because reporters then also couldn't help making cracks about it.

As The Eugene Guard (later Register-Guard) put it “Like the crowds that rush to a fire, a lot of people stuck their noses into something that didn’t concern them at Warrenton last night, much to their own chagrin."

Though strangely considered a success back then, it turned out largely the same. There's articles about locals flooding laundries to get their gut-soaked duds cleaned and their cars washed. See the full, amusing story Warrenton Had an 'Exploding Whale' 30 Years Before Central Oregon Coast

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