WARRENTON, Ore. (AP) — A baby gray whale washed up on the northern Oregon coast on Wednesday, making it the third dead whale to beach on the state’s coastline over the past week.
The 12-foot-long calf washed ashore at Fort Stevens State Park, KGW reported, only 100 yards (91 meters) from the site where a dead sperm whale beached over the weekend.
The baby whale appeared to be a stillborn, Michael Milstein, spokesperson for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s fisheries agency, told the news outlet. There were no indications that it was struck by a ship or that it died from human interaction.
Federal biologists determined that the 40-foot sperm whale that washed ashore nearby died after a ship hit it. The whale had a large gash in its side.
Westerly winds and currents may have caused the two whales to wash ashore near each other, Allyssa Casteel, who is on staff at Seaside Aquarium, told the news outlet. Gray whales are currently migrating south for the winter to their birthing and breeding grounds near Baja California.
The whales at Fort Stevens are not the only cetaceans currently decomposing on Oregon’s beaches.
On Jan. 11, a gray whale washed up on the state’s central coast near Reedsport, Jim Rice, program manager for the NOAA’s Marine Mammal Stranding Network, told KGW. Rice, who examined the male, said it appeared the creature had been killed by orcas, who have been known to prey on gray whales.
An increase in the number of gray whales stranding on the west coast, from Mexico to Alaska, prompted the NOAA in 2019 to announce an “Unusual Mortality Event.” Such events are declared when animals strand unexpectedly or when there is a “significant die-off” of a population that demands an immediate response.
The ongoing NOAA investigation has identified several reasons behind the gray whale population decline, including ecological changes in the Arctic affecting the seafloor and animals the whales feed on each summer.
The gray whale population has declined by 38% from its peak in 2015 and 2016, the NOAA found, partly stemming from low birth numbers in recent years.