Sunday, October 22, 2006

Whale Tail near Astoria

While pal Margot from Kansas was here visiting, and before she could click her red shoes and get outta here before rainy season started, I heard news that a dead whale had washed up somewhere out on the Long Beach Peninsula. Okay, I know it sounds grim, but my curiousity was piqued ... I mean, how often do any of us get to see any whale, alive or dead?

With a little digging, I found out that the whale, a humpback, had washed up just south of Klipsan Beach, which is a good ways up on the peninsula. I grabbed Margot (how many whales was she going to see in Kansas, eh?) and off we went. As we drove up that way, nothing looked unusual - there was no extra traffic, or anything to indicate something different was going on - until I made the left turn to Klipsan Beach.

There was a small army out there, all milling around or walking. A big satellite truck was sitting down by the tide-line. It was hard to say if it was parked, or just plain stuck. Tire-tracks had been made all the way down to the packed sand near the water, and some SUV's were driving around. Not one sign of a whale anywhere, though.

Finally, I leaned out the car window and yelled to a local, asking where the whale was. Down the beach, about half a mile. So we took off down the beach, and it didn't take long to find the very large creature surrounded by a lot of cars and trucks parked on the sand near her, and people milling all around her. It was quite a sight.

Some scientist-types where there measuring her tail flukes and her flippers and lots of people (including me) were taking pictures. Most could not resist touching her, and neither could I. She felt like warm rubber, but soft, like an eggplant. The warmth was apparently not from the sun, but from internal decomposition, and she was bloating pretty fast.

She had a whole eco-system of very large barnacles on her which were slowly dying, and that only added to the sadness of the whole situation.

Here are the photos I took:

Klipsan Beach Whale

The next problem was: what to do with her? Certainly not a repeat of the exploding-whale debacle. Yes, I said "exploding whale," a uniquely unsuccessful attempt at getting rid of a whale carcass many years ago. I can't resist, here's a link to that odiferous fiasco, caught on film by trusty KATU:

Exploding Whale

Anyway, that lesson was apparently learned, and a proper burial was held a day or two later above the tide-line for the unfortunate lady whale.

The Daily Astorian also ran an article about her, and you can read it here:

Daily Astorian: Scientists probe why whale died

So far, nobody seems to know what happened to her, but a post-mortem was performed. Here's what they know so far:

Cascadia Research findings

While it was very sad that she was dead, I was grateful to have the rare opportunity to see such a magnificent creature up close. I can't even imagine how beautiful and graceful she must have been in the ocean.

Astoria Photografpix

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