A 78-foot-long blue whale washed up on the shores of southern Oregon this week.
Though gray whales occasionally turn up on Oregon beaches when they die, it’s rare to find blue whales.
Bruce Mate, who serves as marine mammal director at Oregon State University's Hatfield Marine Science Center, said this is the first time he's seen a blue whale on Oregon beaches. He's been doing research in the state since 1968.
No one is sure what killed the whale before it made landfall at Ophir Beach, although scientists have found orca and shark bites as they examined it.
Speaking from the beach where the whale washed up, Mate said the environment may have also played a role.
“The last two years there’s been what’s called a warm water blob developing off California and reaching up to our neck of the woods. And we’re bracing for a really strong El Nino this year. All three of those years are going to be really bad for whales that feed on krill," he said.
Mate described the whale as emaciated and said it had a "very sick blubber layer."
KVAL reports that the Oregon parks department is leading the effort to remove the carcass. While the state would typically bury the mammal where it beached, workers are stripping the carcass because of the rarity of a blue whale.
The skeleton of the whale will be preserved and put on display at the Marine Center in Newport.
Mate said that it will take a couple of years before the whale’s bones are ready for exhibit.