SEASIDE — A 24-foot humpback whale was among four marine mammals that washed ashore last weekend, along a stretch of the Oregon and Washington coastline, according to Keith Chandler, the manager of Seaside Aquarium.
The whale was found on the beach in Seaside on Sunday, a harbor porpoise washed up near Fort Stevens on Saturday and a striped dolphin was found on Cannon Beach on Saturday, Chandler said. Another striped dolphin washed up in Ocean Park, Washington, also on Saturday.
Chandler said the deaths could be in some way connected and all of the mammals were dead before they reached the shore.
"It's quite a wide area, but it's a big ocean," he said. "We had some really heavy surf, so when you see one, you often see more than one."
He explained that the deaths could be disease-related, or another issue. But there were no obvious signs of trauma.
A team of marine experts from Portland State University and the Oregon Marine Mammal Stranding Network were conducting a necropsy on Tuesday, to try and determine the whale's cause of death. They were collecting samples and taking measurements and photos as they study the dead whale. The samples will be sent to PSU for further study.
Chandler said the humpback was fairly small, and looked to be a juvenile, probably not more than a year old. Young whales usually remain close by their mothers at that age, but he said no adult whales have been spotted near Seaside recently.
Gray whales are most common along the Oregon Coast, but it's not rare to see a humpback whale farther offshore, he said.
Last September, a group of humpbacks were spotted feeding in the mouth of the Columbia River. It caused quite a spectacle.
Background: Humpback whale spotted in Columbia
As for the whale that washed up Sunday, Chandler said a city crew will bury it under the sand, once the necropsy is completed on Tuesday or Wednesday.
He added that people who are curious can feel free to come by to take a look. However, he warned not to touch the whale, as it may carry diseases which could potentially spread to humans or pets.
"We have some orange fencing around the whale, to discourage people from going in, and some signs explaining that it may have diseases. We're most concerned about dogs getting close. Hopefully people will make sure their dogs will stay away," he said.
'It's biology, you know. It's incredible'
Three days after it washed ashore, scientists with the Seaside Aquarium, Portland State University and the Marine Mammal Stranding Network spent hours carving, removing and testing the remains of a humpback whale. They estimate the animal was roughly a year old, barely big enough to leave his mother. After removing his heart, they examined the contents of his stomach to determine whether he had started eating solid foods.
A crowd of onlookers formed to watch the process.
“It’s biology, you know. It's incredible,” said Patrick Gordon, who was visiting Seaside from Canada.
“I have no words for this, an animal that big,” added Patty Went.
The fascination, though, was not without fear.
Initially, scientists worried the deaths and their appearances on land were connected, but by Tuesday, a spokesman for the Seaside Aquarium said they no longer believed that was the case.
Preliminary tests on the remains of the other four animals showed some died of common diseases. Others had gotten caught in fishermen’s nets. They’re the usual causes, brought to the public’s attention by an unusually high tide.
“It's the weather events that cause the frequency, and when you get one, usually you get four or five,” said aquarium spokesman Keith Chandler. “The conditions in the ocean are what bring them on shore.”
The explanation did a lot to soothe concerns among those watching Tuesday’s exam, many of whom walked away with a deeper appreciation for the cycle they saw unfolding right in front of them.
“It's important for people to be aware we're all interconnected,” said Patty Went. “The storms are part of our life and the animal-life is part of our life.”
Chandler says what’s left of the whales remains were scheduled to be buried deep in the sand Tuesday night, courtesy of the city of Seaside.
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