A juvenile humpback whale and several other marine creatures washed up dead this weekend on Washington and Oregon beaches, and their cause of death is yet to be determined.
The young humpback whale, measuring approximately 24 feet in length and believed to be less than a year old, was discovered slumped on the Seaside beach, on Sunday, January 31.
Similarly, the day before, a harbor porpoise was found stranded on the beach pertaining to the Fort Stevens State Park. Two striped dolphins also wound up on the shore on Saturday: one on Cannon Beach in Oregon, and the other one in Ocean Park, Washington.
In addition, on Monday, another striped dolphin washed up on the Seaside beach, close to where the juvenile humpback whale was initially encountered.
A necropsy was launched on Tuesday, February 2, and so far marine biologists are at a loss trying to explain what triggered the aquatic creatures’ demise.
One popular theory circulating at the moment is that the deaths might be related somehow. For instance, according to Keith Chandler, general manager of the Seaside Aquarium, it could be that all the marine mammals were killed by a recent coastal flood triggered by a violent storm.
This would explain why the juvenile humpback whale, as well as the striped dolphins and the harbor porpoise all appear to have been deceased for some time, drifting away on the waves, closer and closer to the shore, until they eventually reached the beach.
Another hypothesis is that the whale died long before the dolphins, and that the latter probably met their end after being trapped by fishing gear.
On the other hand, researchers from the Oregon Marine Stranding Network and Portland State University are not excluding the possibility that other factors may have been at play also.
While no signs of serious injury were identified on the carcasses, it may be that the unusual mortality event was caused by diseases, which might be easily transmitted to humans or domestic pets.
That is why the juvenile humpback whale’s carcass was transported in another portion of the beach, close to 12th Avenue, and has also been surrounded by a bright orange mesh fence, meant to deter curious onlookers from getting too close to the deceased creature.
Signs have also been placed in the vicinity of the corpse, alerting beachgoers that the dead marine mammal might be harboring dangerous pathogens, and should not be touched or approached.
While humans may follow these warnings, dogs and other house pets might also be vulnerable to infectious diseases carried by the young whale, so pet owners are now urged to stop their furry friends from drawing near to the carcass.
It’s unclear when the results of the necropsy will be available: for now, tissue samples are being collected, and the remains are also being photographed and closely assessed, in the hope that any clues related to the aquatic creatures’ death will be retrieved.
Once these steps are completed, the samples will be more thoroughly studied at the Portland State University, and hopefully the mystery surrounding this massive stranding incident will finally be unraveled.
Eventually, after the necropsy is concluded, the juvenile humpback whale will probably be buried at sea, marine biologists have declared.
Image Source: KOIN