WALDPORT — Flapping its fluke up and down and peering toward the ocean, a stranded humpback whale calf on the beach in Bayshore struggled to get back to the open ocean Wednesday, and wildlife officials were concerned not much could be done for the 20-foot long whale.
Thursday morning, wildlife officials were weighing the animal’s health, waiting for new high tides and also considering ways to get the whale back to the sea or potentially euthanizing it.
“A local resident called it in to our volunteers at the Marine Mammal Stranding Network,” said Craig Hayslip, faculty research assistant at the Marine Mammal Institute , from the scene on Wednesday afternoon. “We showed up here at 9:30 or so.”
Hayslip said there’s no way to know for sure when the baby whale washed up on the beach, but said the tide was already out that morning by the time he and his team got to the site of the beaching. The whale wasn’t in the surf anymore, Hayslip said, so it was likely very early Wednesday morning the whale washed up on the sand.
Hayslip said the calf was likely born in the winter and was probably recently weaned. He and other officials, as well as concerned passers-by observing the stranding, didn’t see any other whales with the calf.
“Normally, humpbacks would be further offshore,” Hayslip said. “Usually we see them 15-20 miles offshore, although sometimes they might come within a couple miles. It’s unusual for humpbacks to be near the beach.”
As for how this baby humpback washed up on the shore, Hayslip said young whales, like human kids, can get themselves into trouble.
“In general, whales strand because they’re ill or they’ve been injured,” he said. “There’s no sign of illness or injury with this whale. Young animals sometimes do stupid things, like young people. We often don’t know why whales strand.”
Despite the young whale’s perilous situation Wednesday afternoon, officials and locals said the calf actually did swim out a short distance after the tide came in during the early afternoon. However, Hayslip said the whale didn’t want to swim through the outer breakers, and was eventually washed up on shore again.
“He was getting out there and swimming,” said local Stephanie Pennington, who was out near the calf all day Wednesday. “It was pretty cool, but then the tide brought him back in.”
Marine wildlife officials hold out hope the calf can get back out to the ocean again when the tide rises early Thursday.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration tides tables state the high tide came in around 12:22 a.m. Thursday at 8.53 feet, and would rise again at 1:49 p.m. to 7.14 feet.
Several locals stood at the beach all day to watch the stranded calf, but wildlife and parks officials told members of the public to stand back 100 feet and not go near the calf, even to help.
“We’ll try to keep him wet tonight and just hope the next high tide, he’ll be able to free himself,” Hayslip said. “We won’t let the animal suffer. It’s very hard on an animal that is usually supported by water to be on land, since it compresses its organs and it’s hard to breathe, so they usually don’t survive too long.”
Under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, concerned citizens can’t help an animal like the stranded calf in Waldport. Many locals came out to see the calf and try to help, but Hayslip and other officials kept well-wishers back.
“I’d be glad to,” said Waldport resident Dan Miller of the group’s effort to help. “I’d get out there right now and help it if there was some kind of group effort. I understand they’re not letting people approach it, but it’s not a very big one. It seems like there’s a way we could help it out.”
Humpback whales usually mate and give birth off the coast of Mexico and other areas in the southern hemisphere in the winter months before migrating north for the summer to feed in northern waters, wildlife officials on scene said. According to The National Audubon Society’s Guide to Marine Mammals of the World, these whales migrate about 10,000 miles between their mating and calving grounds and feeding grounds, the longest migration of any mammal.