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Scientists Find Humpback Whale on N. Oregon Coast Died of Vessel Impact

Published 5/31/24 at 9:25 p.m.
By Andre' Hagestedt, Oregon Coast Beach Connection

(Nehalem, Oregon) – This week, researchers were able to thoroughly examine the body of a juvenile humpback whale that had washed up on the Nehalem Spit in Tillamook County, announcing today the whale had died of a ship strike. (Photo NOAA)

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Last week, on May 26, the 34-foot humpback came ashore on the north Oregon coast, coaxing plenty of onlookers to what is normally a somewhat remote area. What was rather unusual about the whale was how some were able to capture video of it floating in the ocean near Rockaway Beach and then come ashore near Nehalem. See video Bloated, Dead Humpback Whale Filmed Offshore Before Washing Up on Oregon Coast's Nehalem Spit

Now, according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA Fisheries), the necropsy team was able to discern the cause of death, according to spokesman Michael Milstein.

“The necropsy found significant hemorrhaging along the right front and sides of the whale, suggesting that it was struck by a vessel,” Milstein said. “The team found bleeding, bruising and swelling along the right side of the whale’s head and sides.”

Photo OPRD

The injuries point to a blunt force impact, what you typically find with a vessel strike.

NOAA Fisheries' most recent stock assessment estimated the summer humpback population off Oregon, Washington, and California as at least about 5,000 animals and they continue to grow in numbers.

Crew from Seaside Aquarium were among those that responded earlier in May. They told Oregon Coast Beach Connection at the time the whale was not in a seriously advanced state of decay and likely hadn't been dead too long, although it was fairly bloated.

Photo: still from video by Mike Ceccacci

This could be seen in the video taken offshore. Seaside Aquarium manager Keith Chandler said the bloating was likely caused by warmer waters.

The necropsy teams largely consisted of Portland State University crew and its arm of the West Coast Marine Mammal Stranding Network. They oversee the north Oregon coast and south Washington coast in these incidents.

Meanwhile, Oregon State Parks is telling people to keep clear of the remains of the whale and be cautious on this beach.

“Oregon State Parks is urging the public not to visit the remains of the whale, which are no longer intact, to avoid further disturbing threatened western snowy plovers that nest nearby,” Milstein said. “Anyone entering the area must respect restrictions in place and stay only on wet, hard-packed sand. Dogs and bicycles are prohibited.”

Milstein said many agencies assisted in the incident.

“NOAA Fisheries and PSU thank Oregon State Parks, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Cascadia Research Collective, and Seaside Aquarium for assisting with the necropsy,” he said.

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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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