Whale strandings on the rise

A young gray whale was found washed ashore north of Lincoln City early this week. (Photo courtesy of Oregon Coast Whale Watchers)

LINCOLN CITY — The third gray whale this season has washed ashore north of Lincoln City, putting the number of strandings so far at the same level as Oregon’s average yearly total.

“We have responded to two dead gray whales on the Central Oregon coast this past week, and an increase in gray whale strandings has been happening along the West coast recently,” said Jim Rice, stranding coordinator for the Oregon Marine Mammal Stranding Network.

A female gray whale washed into Siletz Bay last week. An average of three dead whales a year wash ashore in Oregon, according to data for the last 30 years.

“Overall, predation from killer whales is a common cause of mortality on the Oregon coast,” Rice said, “although it seems that many of the dead whales reported recently were malnourished, suggesting that they have been having a hard time finding enough to eat.”

Oregon Coast Whale Watchers reported the stranding Monday on their Facebook page, detailing a 29-foot male between 2 and 4 years old, located in a rocky area that would make a full necropsy difficult. The group, as well as marine stranding responders, warn the public not to touch stranded whales, as they can contain unhealthy bacteria and release noxious gases as they decompose.

More than 30 dead gray whales have been found along the western seaboard since January, according to reporting by the LA Times — the most since 2000, which saw a total of 86 for that year. Sightings of mother and calf pairs are down as well.