Blue whales are scarcely seen off the coast of Oregon, so it’s even more surprising that one was swept onto one of the state's beaches.
On Monday, November 2, a blue whale washed ashore about 16 kilometers (10 miles) north of Gold Beach in Oregon. The creature weighed at least 91 metric tons (100 U.S. tons) and measured about 23.7 meters (78 feet) long, according to estimates by experts.
“We don’t usually see blue whales this close in,” said Calum Stevenson, an ocean shores specialist with the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department, to The Register-Guard. “They are not even on our radar for Whale Watch because they are so uncommon.”
Experts said the whale was covered in shark and orca bite marks and appeared emaciated, lacking several inches of blubber you would expect to see on a healthy whale. They added that it had been dead for two weeks before getting swept onto land. The whale's cause of death is still uncertain.
However, Stevenson said it could be linked to El Niño and the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, a long-lasting pattern of variable climate in the Pacific. Both these phenomena cause sea temperatures to rise, harming the population of krill that the whales feed on.
By Friday, a crew of 10 volunteers helped to remove blubber from the aquatic giant, along with the help of some hungry seagulls. Once stripped to the bone, researchers hope to take it to the Oregon State University Marine Mammal Institute in Newport, where they can preserve it and eventually display it in a museum.
While talking about the process of removing the whale's blubber on the shore last Friday, Stevenson added, “It’s a nice day on the beach aside from the smell. It’s pretty bad.”