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3 Gray Whales Strand on Oregon Coast: Calf from Orca Attack; Mother and Calf Swim Away

Published 05/12/23 at 10:24 PM
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Three Gray Whales Strand on Oregon Coast: Calf from Orca Attack; Mother and Calf Swim Away

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(Cape Meares, Oregon) – The last 24 hours have proven to be once again heart-wrenching as well as heartwarming when it comes to gray whales on the Oregon coast. (Above: mother and calf gray whales get loose from the surf at Bayocean. Photo Simon Freeman, OPRD)

A deceased gray whale washed up at Otter Rock Thursday, and it's been determined it's the baby that died of a now-infamous killer whale attack this week. Dozens Watch and Document Orcas Attack, Kill Baby Whale on Oregon Coast: More Videos 

Then, in another case with a cheery ending, a mother gray whale and her calf got stuck in the surf for a time Thursday but were able to get out and swim away. See full videos

The latter scenario was something at least one local whale expert had not heard of before, and it's certainly extremely rare.

Simon Freeman, OPRD

Thursday, a gray whale carcass landed onshore immediately south of Otter Rock, on the central Oregon coast, between Depoe Bay and Newport. Jim Rice, whale expert with the Hatfield Marine Science Center and the Marine Mammal Stranding Network, was dispatched to look into it.

There was some buzz on the internet that this might be the mother whale that escaped this week's highly-documented killer whale attack that killed her juvenile, but Rice said that is not the case. It was the baby.

Deceased baby gray whale that was killed on camera by orcas this week: courtesy Jim Rice, Marine Mammal Stranding Network

“It’s a 20-foot-long calf that had sustained major trauma due to killer whale predation,” Rice told Oregon Coast Beach Connection. “Orcas often only consume a small amount of each carcass they’ve killed.”

Rice did a necropsy on the beach, and was in the middle of that when word came of the two whales farther up the coast.

Thursday also saw what is a very rare event: a mother and calf gray whale were stranded in the surf at Bayocean Spit, on the north coast near Oceanside and Tillamook. Footage of them went seriously viral Friday, including the emotional moment when the pair swam away after a time.

This was a Mother's Day-themed tale that everyone needed after watching the baby gray calf get killed by orcas this week.

Jim Rice, Marine Mammal Stranding Network

Oregon State Parks and Recreation Department (OPRD) spokesperson Stefanie Knowlton spoke directly with ranger Simon Freeman, who took the stirring video and photos. She said the call came into OPRD about 12:50 p.m. from Rice at the Marine Mammal Stranding Network, after a Bayocean resident called it in.

Freeman arrived on scene about 1:15 p.m., finding the pair stuck in the surf right at low tide. He was also there to secure the area and make sure no one from the public came too close.

“What he found was a mama gray whale that was about 35 feet in length and a calf about 15 feet in length, still in the water,” Knowlton told Oregon Coast Beach Connection. “They were were relieved to see that they were still in the water and not beached on the sand. They were hoping that they would be able to swim away as the tide came in.”

What happened next was insanely cute.

Simon Freeman, OPRD

“So, they were watching mom and baby, but mom wasn't really moving very much which made them somewhat concerned,” Knowlton said. “But baby was pretty active and was actually nudging the mom underneath the tail. To the people watching, they are interpreting this as baby was trying to encourage Mom to head out to sea. That was really sweet.”

Those onshore at the remote north Oregon coast beach took to trying some encouragement of their own as the tide started filling the area back up. As you can see from the final video, someone yells “kick kick kick!” as the baby whale got a little turned around at first, then slowly started to get its bearings. Even an off-camera dog seems to get into the excitement as the tide begins returning and the whales start moving.

A few minutes after mother whale unjammed herself her youngster finally followed..

Knowlton said this event helps illustrate why you should always leave wildlife alone if you find it stranded on the beach or even other areas of the wild.

Why did the mother and baby get stranded? This was a new one to Rice.

“I’ve never heard of this happening before,” Rice told Oregon Coast Beach Connection. “It’s possible that they were trying to avoid killer whale predation in shallow water and got inadvertently stranded as a result. It’s hard to know for sure why they came ashore. Hopefully they will fully recover from the event and avoid stranding again.”

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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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