Written by Diane Bilderback
Dave and I are long time Oregon Marine Mammal Stranding Network (OMMSN) volunteers, and when Jim Rice, OMMSN Coordinator, texted us that a large, live whale was near Face Rock, we needed to get there quickly. From the headland, we spotted the whale to the south. As we walked down the steps to the beach, we were joined by a Highway Patrolman, also who had been called. Soon, State Parks Rangers and a NOAA official were joining and erected a rope barrier to help control the large crowd. However, most people were wearing masks and trying to stay socially distant from others to see this whale.
The whale was in the surf that was shallow enough so that it could try to swim as the water came in but not deep enough to float its large, long-as-a-school-bus body. At times, the whale blew, but it was only a small blow of 3 or so feet. The dark blue-gray upper body was contrasted by the light underside. It would twist to try to push itself out to sea but was not successful. Once whales come on shore, their large body starts to get crushed under its own weight, and even if they could return to sea, the animal starts to suffer internal injuries making it unlikely to survive. Unfortunately, the tide had started to turn and as the tide went out, the whale became stranded on the sand. I got another text from Jim to bring old sheets and towels to place on the whale to keep it wet. The State Park Rangers, NOAA and Highway Patrol were all helping lug buckets of sea water to keep it moist. When Jim Rice came, he examined and photographed the whale, sending the photos to other whale experts to determine that it was a Sei Whale. The whale died around 9:30 PM in the evening.
Sei Whales are found from subtropical to subpolar regions but in deep water and offshore. They eat krill, squid, and small schooling fish by lunge diving or by skimming the water. They have baleen as do the Grey Whales that are often seen from shore. When feeding they open their mouth and swallow a large gulp of water and prey. They use their tongue to press the water through the baleen, leaving the prey to be swallowed. Along the US Pacific Coast, stranding records from 1950 to present include four Sei Whales, two in California, one in Washington and the first one in Oregon. All the data collected from our Bandon Sei Whale will further our knowledge about this species.
The next day, veterinarians specializing in whales came to help Jim Rice and others on the necropsy team. Detailed measurements are taken such as the length of the animal, the width of the fluke and many more. Then small samples of most of the organ systems (lungs, stomach, kidney, etc.) of the animal are taken so that pathologists can determine the cause of death.
This Sei Whale was a juvenile male, 38 feet in length and still not at the adult size of 45 feet. A whale this size weighs about 10 tons (20,000 pounds). The organ samples will be able to give more information to scientists about this whale’s health as well as add to the knowledge of this species.
Click on link to see photos of the Sei Whale on the beach:
To find more information about the Oregon Marine Mammal Stranding Network and learn how you can help, please visit https://mmi.oregonstate.edu/ommsn .