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New Publication About Oregon Coast Killer Whales Will Be...Well...Killer

Published 06/07/21 at 6:30 PM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

New Publication About Oregon Coast Killer Whales Will Be...Well...Killer

(Oregon Coast) – A new publication is coming out soon that will be a treasure trove of information about killer whales off the Oregon coast and California coastline, featuring hundreds of big, clear, color photos of the mysterious transient Orcas of this region. It's a multi-agency effort, spearheaded by the Transient Killer Whale Project of the U.S. and Canada, and put out through National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the University of British Columbia and others. (Photo above: Orcas off Newport, courtesy Josh McInnes)

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Josh McInnes is one of the leaders on the publication, “Transient Killer Whales of Northern and Central California and Oregon,” which will be a freebie and full of remarkable finds and discoveries for both science nerds and naturalists. He said some 150 killer whales were identified in the research, which took place over almost a decade, and they're all featured in the book.

“Transient Killer Whales of Northern and Central California and Oregon” should be out any day now. However, where and how you can get a copy has not yet been released.

The group that he's a part of, Transient Killer Whale Research Project, is responsible for the Oregon coast killer whale sightings Facebook group that has turned up the heat along these shores with the eye-popping number of reports.

Back in 2018, the group made a series of revelations about Orcas along this coastline: namely that there was more known about them than Oregon scientists were aware of. For one thing, these transient killer whales were largely cataloged by the group.

The publication will reveal more, McInnes said. For one thing, there are two categories of these transients along the West Coast and Oregon: the inner coast and outer coast groups, or assemblages. There's about 350 whales of the inner coast assemblages that live from California through Alaska, but the outer coast group, which spends its time at least 200 kilometers offshore, is a fairly unknown number. The entire combined population is called the West Coast.

“They range from Alaska to California, but they're unevenly distributed,” McInnes said. “My job is to discern how many assemblages there are out there. Do they need specific habitat protection? In that way, Oregon is really fascinating.”

Of the five Oregon encounters documented in the book, there were some mysteries that sprung up with the outer coast group far offshore.

“We found some animals that were unique,” McInnes said. “And by unique I mean they were never seen before. We don't know much about them: they resemble transients; they formed small group sizes. But they were never identified before. Some animals had bite marks from Cookie Cutter Sharks, which are warm water palagic sharks making circular bit marks on their bodies. Which says some whales represent an oceanic outer coast population we don't know anything about. It's really exciting: there are some killer whales we don't know about.”

One of those discoveries happened about 200 kilometers off of Newport, he said.

Another trippy find: Oregon waters are a real mystery to these whale researchers.

“Oregon is a distributional hiatus,” McInnes said. “That means not a lot of sightings.”

Compared to California or Washington and British Columbia, reports here are much less frequent he said. There could be several variables involved, including the fact that since gray whales are so plentiful close to shore whale tours and scientists don't have to go out as far as they do in B.C. There's the resident Orcas of Washington for Seattle residents, and in general waters are calmer up north than in Oregon. McInnes said it's also possible there's something different about the habitat here or food sources that cause them to be rarer.

One of the things Oregon coast officials have long talked about with the run of Orcas each spring is that they're up here chasing gray whale calves. Yet McInnes has a different take on that: Orcas are more interested in the seal pups that are being born right now.

“I've never been able to figure out which group of transients are hunting calves,” he said. “It's easier to grab a seal pup that's less maneuverable, and easy to kill compared to a gray whale calf which isn't as easy to kill and has a large defensive mother.”

He said he doesn't doubt it happens – and indeed Oregon's Whale Spoken Here program has reported seeing this in the past. Yet he's not totally convinced himself that this is the main reason they're here. McInnes notes transient Orcas hit the northern Pacific waters in great numbers when harbor seals reach pupping season in late summer. MORE ORCA PHOTOS BELOW

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Photo courtesy Oregon State Parks

Photo courtesy Seaside Aquarium

Orca at Newport in May, courtesy U.S. Coast Guard

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