A steady stream of humans trekked across the sand south of Pistol River Monday loaded with cameras and trailed by kids and dogs.
The main attraction was a dead female gray whale that washed ashore with the tide and came to rest at the water line. From afar, the creature resembled a huge stone carving emerging from the ocean mist.
People picked at the carcass, gawked and took pictures of their kids posing in front of it. A group of very small children were caught off guard by a rogue wave that washed up onto the scene, sending them splashing about and giving their mother, who was nearby, quite a scare.
Several officials from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) were on hand, measuring the whale and trying to decide what to do with it. The options were to try to bury it or just leave it be. Its remote location on the beach made it difficult to bring in the heavy equipment needed to dig a hole big enough for the 39 1/2-foot animal.
Sue Riemer, a biologist with ODFW, said the whale was already dead before it was beached sometime Sunday afternoon. They were unable to determine the cause of death.
Its hard to tell exactly what causes strandings, she said. It could be that it was just weak and underweight. Most of the time we really dont know.
Riemer said the female was probably heading north on her return migration from southern waters.
The whale probably did not have a calf, as females with young usually return later in the season; they cant travel as quickly with their offspring.
There were several large shark bites gouged in the whales side, but Riemer said they could not tell if the bites occurred before or after death.
Riemer and other biologists painstakingly removed the baleen from the whales mouth with a knife. The team has a special license to cut the baleen, as it is illegal to remove anything from a stranded marine mammal. The baleen was collected to send to the Oregon Institute of Marine Biology for educational purposes.
The teams final verdict was to leave the whale alone and hope that the tide would carry it away. Riemer warned that people should be extremely careful when inspecting the whale.
People are naturally curious, because you usually dont get to see a gray whale this close up, she said.
But they need to have beach awareness. There are sneaker waves and the ocean is powerful. People need to understand that when the tide comes up, it can suddenly pick up the whale and carry it, pinning people underneath. Also, its a dead, decomposing animal leaking fluids.
The biologist said the whale turned completely around from one side to the other just during the time she was there that morning.
People get so curious about marine animals that they sometimes dont pay attention, she said.
Theres no reason not to go down and look at the whale. But people need to keep small children and dogs at a safe distance.