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Sick and Slowly-Dying Whale Spotted Near Depoe Bay, Moving N. Along Oregon Coast

Published 07/26/23 at 6:41 a.m.
y Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

(Depoe Bay, Oregon) – Something sad but simply natural is brewing off the central Oregon coast right now as boatcrews in the Depoe Bay area have spotted a gray whale slowly dying. There is nothing humans can do to help it, and it is just part of the circle of life, say experts. It also may be part of an unhappy trend with whales that has been happening for the last decade or so.

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Whale Research Eco Excursions out of Depoe Bay was the first to post something about it on social. Owner / scientist Carrie Newell said she first got word about July 22, when another boat captain asked her to check out a whale in the area that looked unusual.

“I checked it out and it was extremely underweight with its sides caved in and a depression behind its blowhole. Also, this whale was not diving under like normal,” she said.

It likely only has two weeks to a month or so left to live.

Newell is an established whale scientist as well as owner of the tour and the Whale, Sealife and Shark Museum in Depoe Bay. She personally ID'd and documented many whales that are regulars to this part of the Oregon coast.

She said that recently she published a paper on anorexic whales and found this gray whale fit the criteria.

Leigh Torres, a researcher with OSU, has published numerous findings on undernourished gray whales along the Oregon coast – essentially skinny whales. She echoed Newell.

“Likely malnutrition. It's a hard life for whales to find enough food and cope with all the elements,” Torres said.

Torres told Oregon Coast Beach Connection she and her colleagues had seen another such malnourished and dying whale earlier this year.

Few others have even heard about the whale, including the Whale Watching Center in Depoe Bay. However, Whale's Tail Charters told Oregon Coast Beach Connection they had spotted the sick gray sometime after Newell, noting it was heading north.

Newell took some pics to ID the whale. Other boats were instructed to stay clear of it.

Where it will wind up next is anyone's guess.

Below, graphic from OSU / Torres showing weight difference in whales over time

Skinny whale issues have been plaguing the west coast for awhile now, and a record number of deceased whales washed ashore along the Oregon and Washington coastlines in 2019. A large number of these had poor weight. Torres and her colleagues conducted a study that followed 200 whales by drone for three years, finding many with worsening conditions.

Changes in the ocean environment seem to be worsening or hastening the declining health of whales, likely affecting the whales' food sources.

Torres also recently released findings from another study that showed whales were consuming an incredible amount of microplastics, which may be contributing to their malnutrition not just by consumption but by the way it's affecting their food sources. MORE DEPOE BAY BELOW

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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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