The appearance of a dead humpback whale is casting a shadow over the opening Monday of the official Whale-Watching Week on Oregon's Central Coast.
The slowly decomposing whale carcass was initially spotted over the weekend. Choppy waves and uncertainty over the whale's exact location have foiled on-site investigations for now.
Rob Manning reports on the suspected causes of the huge mammal's death.
By assembling a handful of firsthand reports and by relying on years of experience watching whales, biologist Carrie Newell suspects she knows what became of the migrating humpback, floating off Depoe Bay.
Carrie Newell: “What I'm envisioning is probably seeing crabpot line, probably around the fluke and flipper, at least.”
Newell says the whale likely got caught in the line while migrating, or could have succumbed to some other manmade cause. The reason Newell blames crabpot lines is because of a close call she witnessed less than two weeks ago, involving another migrating humpback whale.
Newell says most crabbers are responsible about picking up their lines. Yet, when she took a whale-watching group out on Depoe Bay about ten days ago, she came across a humpback that was tangled up in crabpot lines.
Carrie Newell: “And I have pictures of the crablines around the fluke, then it went being the blowhole, by the dorsal fine, around the flippers, she was really tangled. After a while, instead of jumping up and trying to get out of it, it ran out of energy and was submerged for a long time - I was actually crying, she got up sounded like it was dying.”
Newell says the humpback she saw ten days ago was one of the lucky few. She says after running out of energy, the whale seemed to be trying to untie the knot by jumping in a different direction.
Carrie Newell: “She did something I've only ever seen one other whale do. And she did backwards' roll. Going backwards, backwards, backwards. And eventually, after three hours, she got untangled.”
Newell says what she and her boatful of whale watchers saw was extremely rare.
Still, it isn't clear that those lines are what caused the death of the humpback still floating off Depoe Bay.
For most coast visitors this week, seeing live whales may be far easier than spotting the dead humpback. There are more than 30 resident gray whales in the area, within a few hundred feet of shore, much of the time.
The dead humpback is a few miles off the coast, and often concealed by choppy waves.