Big Fish

The wreck of the Peter Iredale to the right of the photo.

After our marvelous hike, we stopped in the town of Seaside and ordered some mouth-watering brisket and pints of beer. Our server asked what we were doing the rest of the day. It was getting dark, and we were tired. We had actually planned to simply go home, but he reminded us of the beached whales.

On January 14, a 40-foot Sperm Whale (named after the waxy spermaceti in its head) washed ashore about 50 miles from my house. It generated a lot of discussion because, while Gray Whales wash ashore now and then, a Sperm Whale is rare. This one, sadly, appears to have been struck by a propeller and then died from internal wounds. The most amusing part of the discussion was the question of whether this one would be blown up, like another beached whale that was exploded with dynamite in 1970. Oregonians will never forget that crazy story, when chunks of flying blubber hit onlookers and damaged nearby vehicles.

January 18, a 12-foot baby Gray Whale washed up just 100 yards north of the first one. This does not appear to have died from any human interaction, thank goodness.

Our server told us that a THIRD whale had been found on a beach. This one far south of us, near Reedsport, Oregon. We had not heard about the third one. In any event, the first two were just north at Ft. Stevens State Park (another site of abandoned WWII bunkers and a massive gun mount, if you recall our discovery in the last post.) I didn’t recall seeing a beached whale in my life, so we made plans right there to go to Ft. Stevens before going home.

{Researching for this post, I see that a FOURTH beached whale has appeared on Oregon’s shores. This one at Cannon Beach has been floating and dead for a month and was attacked by a shark. Answering the concerns of many, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (my former employer, NOAA) scientists and the Seaside Aquarium scientists have made statements that it is only coincidence that these whales are being found on the beach at the same time. A suggestion was made that with the exceptionally strong storms in the area recently, it could be that floating whales are being pushed ashore more than is typical.}

{Speaking of those storms, there was so much rain and wind that in December half a hillside crashed down onto Highway 30 just west of where I live. The highway was completely closed for three days and then only open to one-way traffic for a month, while equipment cleared a path. Each time they bulldozed some rocks from the bottom, more spilled down from the unstable hillside. When I heard about the road closure back in December, I dropped all thoughts to head to the coast and had forgotten all about it, assuming it had been fixed long ago. When Pedro and I made this trip, we had no idea at the time that the road had only been fully open for two days!}

After eating brisket until we were stuffed to the gills, we drove north on Highway 101 and I worried about the quickly fading daylight. Neither of us really had any idea where the whales were. I had heard on the news that the first one was “near” the wreck of the Peter Iredale. (I’ve got some great shots of that wreck in an old blog post.) I had also heard that the second whale was “near” the first one. But when you’re on foot, on the beach, how close is “near?” I knew which parking lot I wanted, and our plan was to go out onto the beach and look for something whale-shaped. That would only work if it was still light enough to see.

Ft. Stevens is an enormous park and I wasn’t exactly sure which parking lot was the correct one for where we wanted to be, but I got lucky and went directly to it. The place was surprisingly crowded for January, but it was Sunday, so maybe that explains it. Happily, I could see from the parking lot that not only would there be enough light for another 10-15 minutes to look for a whale, but there was also shaping up to be a stunning sunset. Five steps away from the Jeep we spotted the whale.

A group of curious onlookers gave away the position of the whale. (The two on the right don’t seem to mind the morbid view off to the side of their romantic sunset viewing.)

We walked directly to the whale. It was smaller than I was expecting, for a 20-year-old Sperm Whale, but I think I was relying too much on my childhood whale fantasies. It was a magnificent beast.

People stood quietly, respectfully, and gazed thoughtfully at the creature, which I appreciated.
The mammal’s blowhole. This view looks so much like a nose and nostril, it really captured my attention.
Many large pieces seemed to have been cut and flayed. It may have been part of the necropsy performed by NOAA when the whale was first found.
I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me till I saw it, that the whale would be completely coated in sand.
I still found beauty in its lines.

As we grew close, and circled the giant sea mammal, we smelled its rotting flesh. It was not too bad. My guess is that the smell will get worse in the future.

I took this shot, with the shipwreck behind it, so I could show my friends where to find it, if they wanted to come.
I have been on a boat in the sea when I saw a whale tail rise from the water. Those memories surfaced while I looked at this whale’s tail.

It was growing darker, which our cameras don’t really reflect because they were making good use of the available light. It was also quite cold. We did not linger beside the whale. I think there was probably much more to see and discover if I had spent more time there, but we began looking for the other whale. I noted above that the baby whale was 100 feet north of this one – just on the other side of the shipwreck apparently. But at the time we did not know that, and looked around in vain, seeking another cluster of people with cameras. We saw none. Today I am disappointed to discover how close the other whale was, if only we had persisted a little longer.

Before we returned to the car, we could not resist some sunset shots.

A seagull helpfully flew through the view, adding some motion to the scene.
This image was with my phone. I like how the different cameras show a different scene.
This one was taken with Pedro’s new iPhone 37, or whatever the brand-spanking new version is….
I walked closer to the sea to capture the reflection of the setting sun on the wet sand.

It was simply too cold to linger. We turned for one last look at the whale as we headed back to the parking lot.

It’s nearly dark, but the whale is irresistible and people continue to arrive and head over to it.

After NOAA completed their necropsy, the whale was moved away from the water and left on the shore for natural and educational purposes. It will be allowed to decompose in this spot.

Just before we climbed into the Jeep, I saw a man crouched beside a large mud puddle in the parking lot. I circled around behind him to see what he saw and it was amazing! I got so excited that when he was done, and walked away, I swooped in to copy his photo idea.

In this photo, the mud puddle is in the foreground, a low hill of sand is the black stripe in the middle. You can make out the sea in the background, even some waves on the right hand side.
I could not believe how beautiful it was.

I hollered at Pedro to go over to the other side of the mud puddle, and he obliged. Look at what we created:

For these two shots, I used my iPhone and I’m glad I did. Though the resolution is not as good, my phone camera pulled in more colour and light. This is just outstanding.

Back in the warm car, Pedro again reminded me that I had never seen his favourite beach out here. It’s at the very end of the jetty, where it curls back around and faces the Columbia River instead of the ocean. Well, we were there, and there was probably at least five minutes of light left in the sky, so I said, “Let’s go!” and we got back on the road.

I am so glad for his suggestion. We walked a long boardwalk to the “wildlife viewing area,” and came out on a beach where we met a woman just leaving. She said she had seen a herd of elk walking nearby, but was no longer able to spot them. We thanked her for the tip and walked to the beach.

My first view of the lagoon through the beach grass.

We never did spot the elk. The tide was out and we were mesmerized by the myriad carnival colours in the sky reflecting everywhere.

Panoramic shot of Jetty Lagoon by Pedro Rivera

20 thoughts on “Big Fish

  1. Rather sad and nauseating, the sight of this corpse. I would not wish to see the baby. But the sunset images made me feel much better. And I’m so glad that you went to see Pedro’s favourite beach as well. You had such a full day indeed.

  2. It is sad! I was there just once at Fort Stevens, last spring. I kmow the exact parking lot and beach walk. It was blustery when I was there and no fabulous sunset. Thanks for a different perspective of the area. That shipwreck is so cool, the “whalewreck” not so much. Poor things. That IS a lot of whales washed up in a short time. I wonder if those king tides bear some responsibility?

    1. I’m glad this post shows you another view of the beach. I’ve been there a dozen times probably, and I’ve had pretty good luck with weather – though almost always windy and cold, ha ha. It hardly needs to be said about Oregon beaches. Maybe the king tides are related, since those exceptionally high tides are likely impacted by storms at seas.

    1. Thanks for the compliment on the photos. It was fun to watch that sky! I know the Native people around here would have eaten the whale when it first washed up, back about 100 years ago. I guess it might not be good to harvest anymore, having decomposed on shore for too long at this point, but that’s only a guess.

  3. Thinking about it, Crystal, I can’t ever recall seeing a beached whale. Or smelled one. 🙂 Interesting. And what a great puddle! That is a big one! I’m always looking for reflection shots in puddles. Most people overlook them but they provide some really unique photos, like you captured.

      1. I used to head over to the American River in Sacramento after a big rainstorm to specifically take puddle photos, Crystal. And 10 feet is a big puddle. 🙂

  4. All I can say is WOW!!!! I find it interesting the whales beach when dead instead of being disseminated by by the ocean. Those sunset shots are prize worthy. Just wow! It was nice of the man to leave you that clue to an interesting and stunning shot in a puddle of all places. We miss so much with our eyes. You were clearly not dressed warm enough for evening at the beach. That’s bone chilling. Hugs to you both.

    1. ha ha, we were NOT dressed for a night at the beach. Despite that, I’m glad we made a last-minute decision to go there. We kept moving to keep our blood flowing, and had the heater cranked in the car on the way home. I agree with you that it was nice of the man to give us that clue. I’m so glad he noticed the puddle. While I was taking shots of Pedro, a woman noticed me and said, “What a good idea! I am going to copy you!” I told her it wasn’t my idea, but yes, it was a good one. 🙂

    1. Thank you, Jolandi. I love when the landscape or the sky is simply so astounding that it’s impossible not to get fantastic photos! It is sad that the whale died from its interaction with humans – in this case a boat. It adds to a continuing discussion of how to live and work on the sea in a less harmful way. It was not a concern at all when our country was first industrializing, but now we are seeing the harmful effects of our behavior, and people are trying to do better, which might be too late for some sea life, but it’s something.

      1. So much of what once looked like progress is turning out to be quite harmful to the environment. Something I never considered before, until I heard someone discussing it, was the noise pollution in the oceans and its harmful effects. It is only when we are aware of the impact we have that we can change our behaviour, and it is certainly encouraging that people are trying to do better. Life really is a myriad of small choices that can stack up to make a big difference.

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