PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — A stranded mother gray whale and its calf were able to return to open water after they became beached at Oregon’s Cape Meares near Bayocean Peninsula Park in Tillamook County.
Oregon State Parks Ranger Simon Freeman told Nexstar’s KOIN that capturing the May 11 event was one of the coolest moments of his life.
“They were likely forced to go into shallow water due to killer whales hunting them,” Freeman said. “These whales were able to wait until the tide got high enough to swim back out to the ocean. This was the ideal outcome for this situation.”
Oregon Marine Mammal Stranding Network Manager and Oregon State University Marine Biologist Jim Rice told KOIN it’s unlikely the whales intentionally beach themselves to evade predators.
“It is not normal behavior for whales to intentionally beach themselves in order to avoid predation, although it’s possible that they sought shallow water to avoid predation and inadvertently became stranded as a result,” Rice said.
Videos of the incident captured by Oregon State Parks show the whales thrashing in the surf before successfully swimming back to sea during high tide.
“They were lucky and got stranded at low tide,” Freeman said. “Many times, they aren’t able to make it back out because they get stuck on an outgoing tide. Fingers crossed this momma and calf live for a long time and are able to tell this story to their whale friends.”
Although spectators may be tempted to get close to beached whales, bystanders are required to keep 50 yards away from beached marine mammals at all times, according to Freeman. Beachgoers who spot a stranded animal are asked to call county or state park officials through their non-emergency lines.
“It’s important to keep in mind that federal law states to stay at least 50 yards away from any beached marine mammals,” Freeman said. “Many marine mammals can carry diseases that are transferable to both pets and humans, such as leptospirosis. We share the Ocean Shore with a variety of amazing animals, such as western snowy plovers, pupping harbor seals, molting elephant seals, and the occasional beached whale, so it’s important to give them the space they need to thrive on our amazing coastline.”