A young gray whale washed ashore along the central Oregon coast earlier this week, officials said.
Jim Rice, program manager with the Oregon Marine Mammal Stranding Network, said the 30-foot juvenile male was first reported Monday in the waters of a small cove near Sixth Street in Yachats.
Rice said the whale came ashore Tuesday, and he was able to collect tissue samples before the tide took it out again, though it is likely still in the area. The animal had likely been dead for a day or two before it came ashore, Rice said. It was unclear how it died.
Researchers have been studying a precipitous decline in the gray whale population off the West Coast. The species’ population has declined by 25% since 2016, and a study released earlier this year found 6,000 fewer migrating whales last winter, 21,000 as compared with 27,000 in 2016.
In 2019, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration declared an “unusual mortality event” after more than 120 dead whales washed up on beaches in California, Oregon, Washington and Alaska. That number fell this year with 43 whales washing ashore in 2021 as of Aug. 5. The whale in Yachats marks the third to come ashore in Oregon this year.
The cause of the die-off has yet to be determined, but some experts have theorized the population may have become too large for what the food base can support.
A similar reduction in gray whale numbers occurred between 1999 and 2000, with the population falling by an estimated 23%. Experts said large swings in the population don’t necessarily indicate any long-term threats to the species.
Gray whales spend their summers in the Arctic, bulking up on food before their long migration to breeding grounds off the coast of Mexico.
Rice said, given the Yachats whale’s location, it is unlikely the animal will be moved if it comes back ashore as there is no way to access the creature with the heavy equipment to move it and no location close by suitable for burial.