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Oregon Beaches See Strange Stumps, More Diseased Sea Lions

Article Published 11/27/2010

(Oregon Coast) - As winter officially approaches, the beaches of the Oregon coast are getting hit with a wide variety of wacky - and even unpleasant - things either washing up or being uncovered. Diseased sea lions keep showing up, endangering people and their pets. Those weird, ancient stumps are popping up on the central coast – known as a ghost forest. A couple of decomposed whales have washed up recently, and an ill sea turtle made a brief appearance on the north coast. Above: ghost forest stumps near Seal Rock, just south of Newport. (Side story: where are other ghost forests along the Oregon coast?)

Seal Rock ghost forest stump

The famed ghost forests are popping up again, thanks to some beach erosion. David Woody, Oregon state park ranger for the central coast region, said a few have been spotted emerging just south of Seal Rock (seen above) and at a beach access called Big Stump beach, which is near Big Creek, near Waldport.

These ghost forests are believed to be around 4,000 years old, though there are some about 2,000 years old on other spots on the coast. They look like odd rock structures at first, but they are the remnant of a forest that was engulfed by sand and thus preserved because they were kept away from the decomposing effects of oxygen.

The main theory is that sand and mud slowly smothered the trees over a period of years or decades. Another theory is that the stand of trees was covered abruptly by a cataclysmic event such as a massive earthquake or tsunami.

Stumps near Seal Rock

The ghost forests that sometimes show up just north of Newport have not revealed themselves this winter, and neither have any others that are spotted sometimes in spots like Hug Point, Arch Cape or Rockaway Beach.

“Sand levels are pretty normal,” Woody said. In fact, he said if anything sand levels are higher than normal in many spots around the coast.

Woody also reported the run of diseased sea lions on the coast has not ended.

The disease is called leptospirosis, and it’s infecting California sea lions in enormous numbers, something made worse the by fact there’s a huge boost in the population of California sea lions in this area. It often kills them and their bodies wash up onshore. The disease can spread to humans and dogs who come in contact with an infected sea lion.

A sea lion in Seaside (photo Seaside Aquarium)

On Wednesday, Woody said the central coast is really getting hit with these.

“The other day I had to bury eight,” Woody said. “Today I’ve got six to deal with, just from Tierra Del Mar down to Yachats.”

So far the north coast – from Rockaway Beach northward - has not found any diseased sea lions, but it’s believed it still may hit. The south coast – from Florence southward – is not getting hit as hard as the Lincoln County area.

But Woody is worried it all could get much worse.

Sick sea lion at Lincoln City in October

“There’s a big colony of California Sea Lions just south of Heceta Head,” Woody said. “If it hits them, we may get hundreds of them washing up.”

Woody said two nasty smelling whales recently washed up, both badly decomposed after floating around the sea after they died. One was a baby Humpback whale near Yachats, the other, near Lost Creek, was so decomposed it was unidentifiable – although one scientist believed it was likely a beaked whale of some sort.

Green sea turtle at Seaside Aquarium (photo Seaside Aquarium)

Last week, a male green sea turtle was found in Seaview, Washington – a rather rare find on the coast. Staff from Seaside Aquarium retrieved it and helped rehabilitate it for about 24 hours, before driving it up to Seattle and giving it to the Seattle Aquarium. (Side story: where to find other ghost forests along the Oregon coast, including Cannon Beach, Oceanside, Pacific City, Cape Lookout, Depoe Bay, Yachats, Waldport and Newport,i?)

Seaside Aquarium manager Keith Chandler said it was hypothermic and had some superficial scrapes and cuts. It appeared to be doing better rather quickly, so he was surprised to find out it died this past Monday. Oregon Coast Lodgings for this - Where to eat - Maps and Virtual Tours

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