New guide lets you learn about the individual whales of the Oregon coast
Posted 12/30/21 5:22 PM PST
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection Staff
(Oregon Coast) – Some gray whales off the Oregon Coast have become little celebrities, like Scarback (also known as Scarlett). Others are recognizable to whale watching enthusiasts along the coast, while many are simply not known to the public. (Photo courtesy of OSU)
Now you can get to know the individual gray whales that are regulars on the Oregon coast – and their stories. An expansive new website published by OSU and the Hatfield Marine Science Center, www.individuwhale.com, takes a comprehensive but detailed look at the beauties of the cetaceans that regularly navigate these waters.
Individuwhale.com is the product of years of research in the Marine Megafauna Geospatial Ecology Laboratory at the Marine Mammal Institute at Oregon State University. Scientists have identified some 190 gray whales there that spend time in coastal Oregon waters, as well as in California, the Washington coast and southern Canada. However, so far there are only eight on the website, but they are known to hang around these coasts.
However, their story is not limited to photos and announcements.
Leigh Torres, senior researcher in the Marine Megafauna Geospatial Ecology Lab at OSU’s Marine Mammal Institute, said these eight lists of whales contain some sort of biographies – a pretty impressive collection of basic information about their lives. . For example, the whale known as Roller Skate has a damaged moat, part of which was lost due to entanglement with fishing gear. Solé has a favorite feeding area along the coast which she returns to every year.
The interest of the site is that it is now possible to meet these giants, which can only be seen during whale watching trips or from a distance. Their identification marks are clearly displayed and you can learn about their major life events. Yet you can also see how human interaction affects them, and thus better understand these animals.
“We wanted to share with Oregonians and the general public the stories of these whales because they are Oregon residents like us, and they have personalities and stories to tell,” Torres said. “These whales have interesting lives that we have learned a lot about over the years through our research.”
This research focuses on what’s called the Pacific Coast Feeding Group and included what were called annual whale health checks that began in 2016. They used drone technology to track the whales , vessels to collect their stool samples. of the ocean to check reproduction and stress, as well as to observe their behavior and capture images of them.
From there, they were able to piece together some major changes in the lives of Grays, including injuries, which often occurred due to their interaction with humans.
The group gave them nicknames like Orange Knuckles, Equal or Roller Skate – nicknames that resemble Battlestar Galactica call signs.
For example, Roller Skate was first identified as a calf in 2015. In 2019, she was spotted with fishing line tangled around her fluke. In 2020, researchers documented it again in the same area, according to Lisa Hildebrand, a doctoral student in the program who helped create the website.
“She survived a very gnarled and encrusted injury, and part of her stroke of luck was effectively amputated,” Hildebrand said. “She dives differently now than she did before the injury.”
Another example: Equal has a mark left by an encounter with a boat propeller.
Scarlett is the biggest celebrity, often seen in Depoe Bay and Newport. Hildebrand said the whale was seen every year on their outing and survived major trauma.
“It’s a tough whale that recovered from this huge back injury and was then able to breed successfully,” she said.
The IndividuWhale project was funded in part by the Oregon Sea Grant and the Marine Mammal Institute. Erik Urdahl, a website developer, donated his services to build the site.
All of this allowed scientists to do what Torres called “really cool science” when it came to whales off the Oregon coast. Yet much of the mission here is to educate the public about the threats to Oregon’s gray whale population caused by noise, fishing gear, propellers, and how their sources of. foods are altered due to man-made climate change.
Of course, the site is an extra layer for the enjoyment of coastal tourism, but there are a few important points that you should not miss.
“We want people to understand the connection between their behavior and these individual whales,” Torres said. “We are trying to reach these daily ocean users. If everyone changes behavior, like slowing down while cruising near reefs where gray whales feed, reducing the use of plastics that pollute the ocean, and quickly removing crab fishing gear so animals don’t get there. not tangling, these are all things that can make a huge difference.
See also Oregon Coast Whales News
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Photo courtesy of Dave Foley, Port Orford Whale Watching Group
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