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They're Baaack: Finally, Orcas Spotted on Oregon Coast | New Info Emerges

Published 04/09/21 at 6:46 AM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

They're Baaaack: Finally, Orcas Spotted on Oregon Coast | New Info on Them

(Oceanside, Oregon) – April, even March, is usually when you start spotting Orcas along the Oregon coast. However, sightings have been dry there recently – until now. At the same time, new information emerged about them two years ago that has shed more light on this particular group. (Above: Killer whales in Depoe Bay, courtesy Whale Watching Center)

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According to the Orca Network out of Washington State, a pod of Killer Whales were sighted at Oceanside on April 6, as reported by Jim Border. It’s a good sign that maybe now they’ll be seen periodically.

“They first were watching several grays heading northbound a few miles offshore,” the network said in its weekly reports. “Then into view came no fewer than 1/2 dozen beasts moving southbound 4-5 miles offshore. These whales had vertical black fins so was confident they were seeing pod of Orcas. They watched for about 40 minutes as the Orcas continued southbound.”

On April 7, Oregon Coast Beach Connection checked in with some whale tour operations on the coast but no one had seen anything yet. With the Whale Watching Center in Depoe Bay shut down, and many other experts not in the field or offices, there have been less trained eyes out there.

The Orcas primarily coming down to this area are what as known as transients, meaning Oregon scientists didn’t know where they originated from and didn’t know much about them. Periodically, the Washington coast / Puget Sound killer whales will pop up here, but not often and not with the same regularity as the transients.

The Orca Network did not know if these were the usual transients or Puget Sound variety, but a good guess is the transients because this is when they normally appear.

In April and May, the transients – which have a more beaked appearance – show up to chase the newborn calves of gray whales and chomp on them. Washington coast Orcas pop up to eat fish, chasing baitfish that wander the north coast and the lower Columbia in late summer. However, there are more Humpbacks doing this in summer rather than Killer whales.

New information about the so-called transients came to light in 2019: it turns out they were not as much a mystery as Oregon scientists had thought. Researchers from the University of Victoria and the California-based Marine Life Studies had identified two separate groups of transient killer whales that call the entire west coast of the continent home: from California to Alaska. Their members have even been cataloged.

Josh McInnes, a Canadian researcher from both groups, talked to Oregon Coast Beach Connection back in 2019.

“There are two sub set communities,” McInnes said. “There’s what we call the outer coast group that’s primarily found in the offshore waters around the continental shelf. We see those guys a lot in Monterrey, California. Then there’s the inter-coast. They both intermingle, but not a continuous basis, though.”

These groups are growing steadily in number, while the resident whales of the Puget Sound are shrinking.

The inter-coast Orcas, unlike their fish-guzzling brethren in Washington, eat mammals like baby gray whales, sea lions and seals. It’s well known their presence triggers a sudden exodus of other mammals. Abruptly, other whales and seals will leave an area. Then as if by clockwork Orcas arrive.

Depoe Bay, courtesy Edith Hitchings

All this is quite a revelation about the transient whales. McInnes said that there is more information about these creatures than previously thought in this state, but the Oregon transients are still a little elusive to researchers. For one, he noted there are lots of sightings reported along the Oregon coast but few photographs.

There is emerging a new and interesting theory about what we see in this state.

“We think that what we’re seeing in Oregon is a mix of California and British Columbia transients,” McInnes said. MORE KILLER WHALE PHOTOS BELOW

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Photo above Edith Hitchings / Depoe Bay

Courtesy Oregon State Parks

Depoe Bay, courtesy Whale's Tail Tours

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