Waldport, Ore., Thursday, August 15, 2019 – A 20’ juvenile humpback whale that washed ashore north of the Alsea River near Waldport on Wednesday, August 14 was euthanized around mid-day today, August 15th. A team organized by the Oregon State University-based Oregon Marine Mammal Stranding Network (OMMSN) includes representatives of the Northwest Stranding Network, who work in collaboration with the federal National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and who euthanized the whale with an injection.
Students, volunteers, and staff with the OMMSN, Oregon Coast Aquarium, OSU Marine Mammal Institute, and OSU Hatfield Marine Science Center spent Wednesday providing comfort care by digging out around the beached whale while keeping it wet. Oregon State Park beach rangers provided support. During the Wednesday high tide, the whale managed to swim free briefly before stranding itself again. Members of the team stayed on site most of the night; an even higher high tide early in the morning Thursday still left the whale beached.
Brittany Blades, Oregon Coast Aquarium Curator of Mammals stayed overnight to monitor the whale. “The whale exerted a lot of effort to swim past the sandbar to deep enough water. Unfortunately every time the whale oriented itself toward the ocean, it would get pushed broadsided to the waves and come closer to shore,” said Blades. “As the night went on, the whale stranded further on shore due to the strong waves and extremely high tide.”
Stranding specialists on the team consulted with colleagues nationwide and determined euthanizing it was the only humane option. The team also considered trying to move the animal closer to the water or give high tides another chance, but neither alternative was deemed feasible. “Due to the size of the whale and amount of time spent stranded on land, it is likely that the internal organs suffered irreparable damage that is not externally apparent,” said Blades.
After a necropsy to gather important data on whale biology, a state park contractor will bury it on the beach near the site of the final stranding.
The Oregon Parks and Recreation Department reminds all residents and visitors the ocean shore is a wild environment, and presents an invaluable opportunity to enjoy wildlife and natural cycles. Wildlife should be given a wide berth and shown respect at all times, however. Any stranded marine mammal should be reported immediately to 541-270-6830. Marine mammals, including carcasses, are protected by federal law and must be left untouched.
The OMMSN began in the 1980s and is involved in collection and analysis of data and biological samples. Data collected from such events are entered into a national database that is used to establish baseline information on marine mammal communities and their health. The Stranding Network is a volunteer organization, with one paid staff member for the entire state of Oregon (the Network Coordinator). Stranding network members are from universities, state and federal agencies, and the general public, and they donate their time. The network does not receive state funds. Information on volunteering or donating to support the network is online at https://mmi.oregonstate.edu/ways-help.