Sick, orca attack, fishing gear

Sick, orca attack, fishing gear

Posted on 02/24/13 at 6:55pm
B
y Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Oregon Coast Whale Update: Sick orca attack, fishing gear

(Gearhart, OR) – A 46-foot male whale became stranded on Oregon’s northern coast early Monday, and experts have released more information after a necropsy was performed on the beach this morning (Tuesday).

This was an extremely rare discovery, with only one recorded case of a fin whale beached along Oregon about 20 years ago. It’s a condition that has some unusual aspects: Experts have found evidence of disease, an orca attack, and entanglement in fishing gear.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and its Northwest Fisheries Science Center coordinated the response, overseeing the local marine mammal network, a response that included the Seaside Aquarium, Portland State University, the Cascadia Research Group, and Marine Life Response, Rehabilitation, and Research . And the Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory in Washington.

The fin whale struck the sand near Sunset Beach between Warrenton and Gearhart, appearing tangled in fishing gear.

There were initial reports that he was still moving and living, although these reports were later shown to be incorrect.

“As the whale was washing ashore, the waves were pushing it, making some people believe the whale was still alive at the time of its stranding,” said Tiffany Booth of Seaside Aquarium.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) was unusually vocal this time, taking to Facebook and pleading with the public to stay away. Now, the reason is clear: someone took the fishing gear and didn’t wait for officials or experts to do so.

“Unfortunately, before authorized responders had a chance to examine the whale, someone removed the entangling equipment,” Booth said. “Although it may have seemed like a good idea at the time, this has harmed the investigation of stranding and entanglement.”

Because of this, they don’t know what type of fishing gear surrounded the fin whale, Booth told Oregon Coast Beach Connection.

A small cadre of agencies helped conduct the autopsy, discovering several things, including the fact that fishing gear had nothing to do with his death.

Michael Milstein, a spokesman for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said the whale was emaciated and may have died of an underlying disease. He was very thin, the autopsy indicated, but he also had marks from encounters with killer whales and from fishing gear.

However, necropsies so far indicate that it was disease and/or weight loss that killed the fin whale. Experts took many samples, and hopefully this will reveal the disease and its cause, but the results will not come back for two weeks.

“Entanglement-related injuries appear to be recent and superficial,” NOAA said. The team also recorded wounds from killer whales called “rake marks.”

So what happened with the orca attack? Josh McInnis, of the Marine Mammal Research Unit at the British Columbia Ocean and Fisheries Institute, runs the Oregon Coast killer whale monitoring program on Facebook. He looked at the photos today and made an educated guess – even though he wasn’t present at the site.

“I believe this whale was sick and it is possible that a group of passing killer whales sensed this and made a probing attack on the whale that left it superficially injured but did not kill the whale,” McInnis told the Oregon Coast Beach Connection.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said abrasions caused by entangled gear were also superficial.

What will happen to the fin whale’s body?

The Oregon Parks and Recreation Department (OPRD) will simply leave it on the beach to decompose, Booth said. This means it will be there for a while, but you won’t want to check it up close. It will soon emit an unpleasant odor and will increasingly pose a disease risk to humans and pets.

Milstein told the Oregon Coast Beach Connection that the discovery is extremely rare. Only five have washed up on the US West Coast in the past two years (including the Washington coast), and none have been on NOAA records in Oregon in the past 10 years. However, Booth said the aquarium encountered one about 20 years ago.

“We estimate there are about 8,000 fin whales off the West Coast, but they generally stay offshore in deeper waters, so it’s rare for them to show up stranded on the beach,” Milstein told the Oregon Coast Beach Connection.

Meanwhile, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is insisting people stay away from stranded marine mammals, at least in part to avoid Monday’s incident with lost fishing gear.

“The response to entanglement and stranding of large whales provides an important opportunity to collect, document and identify entanglement gear. Analysis of removed entanglement gear provides information that may reduce the risk of future entanglements. Report it to the Stranding Network at 1-866-767-6114.

(tags for translation) Oregon Coast

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