It’s a rare and beautiful sight to behold, with humpback whales spotted in huge numbers in Columbia River, unusually far away from ocean waters, but a true delight to visitors and touring groups around the small port town of Astoria.
Downstream from the bridge to Washington, locals could spot several whales travelling into the waters on the north Oregon coast, as far as 14 miles from where the Columbia river meets with the Pacific Ocean. The humpback whales provided with great entertainment for the public, exceptional moments for photographers, and a bit of worry from experts.
As stunning as their appearances are, it does raise the question of why they have presented themselves so far away from the ocean, according to biologist Deborah Jacques, with sightings of whales never seen before so far upriver.
It is believed that the warmer than usual waters are drawing a lot of baitfish, which further lured the whales in search for their food.
However, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has also suggested that the waters have seen highly more increased temperatures than it’s common, and the growing El Niño may be adding to the problem. If its events become closer together, there might be an even bigger number of sightings of humpback whales in the river.
It had caused the waters in the Pacific Ocean to warm up, which makes it near impossible for fish at the bottom of the food chain to thrive. And when they travel, some of their predators go along with them.
According to Bruce Mate, director of the Marine Mammal Institute who has studied the animals for the past four decades, the circumstances “don’t favor whales very well this summer”, after the waters have experienced an unusual warmth. While it provides ample of sources of entertainment for the locals and tourists, it can be worrying news for the mammals.
They can now be seen along the coasts of Oregon and Washington, while on their way to their breeding grounds in Hawaii, though between 5 to 15 miles off shore. It would require a pair of powerful binoculars or a boat to travel close enough to them.
However, the calm waters typical between September and October when the Oregon coast is at its warmest may just provide the best circumstances possible for catching sight of the whales as they swoop in and out of the water in search of anchovies. Many sightings have already been reported, including one of two babies, and adults swimming happily beneath boats.
Image source: uwphotographyguide.com