WARRENTON, Ore. — A baby gray whale washed up on the northern Oregon coast Wednesday, marking the third dead whale to wash up on the state’s coastline in the past week.
A 12-foot-long calf washed ashore at Fort Stevens State Park, KGW reports, just 100 yards (91 meters) from where a dead sperm whale washed ashore last weekend.
The baby whale was stillborn, Michael Milstein, a spokesman for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration fisheries agency, told the news outlet. There was no indication that it had been hit by a ship or that it had died from human interaction.
Federal biologists have determined that a 40-foot sperm whale that washed ashore nearby died after being struck by a ship. The whale had a large gash on its side.
Westerly winds and currents could have caused the two whales to wash ashore next to each other, Alyssa Casteel, who works at the Seaside Aquarium, told the news outlet. Currently, gray whales migrate south for the winter to their birth and breeding grounds near Baja California.
The whales in Fort Stevens aren’t the only cetaceans now decomposing on Oregon beaches.
A gray whale washed up on the state’s central coast near Reedsport on Jan. 11, Jim Rice, program manager for NOAA’s Marine Mammal Network, told KGW. Rice, who examined the male, said the creature was killed by killer whales, which are known to prey on gray whales.
An increase in gray whale strandings along the West Coast, from Mexico to Alaska, prompted NOAA to declare an “unusual mortality” in 2019. Such events are announced when animals are unexpectedly stranded or when there is a “significant die-off” in the population that requires an immediate response.
An ongoing investigation by NOAA has identified several causes of gray whale population declines, including environmental changes in the Arctic affecting the seabed and the animals the whales feed on each summer.
According to NOAA, the gray whale population is down 38% from its peak in 2015 and 2016, partly due to low birth rates in recent years.