Orcas Spotted in Depoe Bay, Reminding us Why Nature is Metal

by | May 9, 2023 | Featured, News

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Orcas, aka Killer Whales, are a less common sight along Oregon's coastline than Gray whales, but when they do appear, folks are usually in for a spectacle. In fact, whale watching on the Oregon coast has become a pastime for many people, casual viewers, and marine biologists alike.

orca sighting, oregon coast

The Orca, a commonly regarded symbol of fortune, empathy, and kinship, holds great significance in various Pacific Northwest Indigenous cultures, where it is revered as the sea's protector. Due to their closely-knit social structure, Orcas are sometimes associated with the potency of affection and familial ties, representing the unbreakable bonds that exist within a family.

These majestic, monochromatic creatures are best remembered from movies such as Oregon-filmed Free Willy, in which a boy befriends a captive Orca and helps him gain his freedom. Keiko's story played out in real life when this whale of an "actor" was released back into the ocean after spending some time at the Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport. His story had less of a happy ending than the movie, and although Orcas are highly intelligent creatures, the moniker of Killer Whale is in stark contrast to their often cute and cuddly portrayals.

keiko, orca, oregon coast aquarium, free willy
Seen here breaching from his pool, Keiko the orca spent two years rehabilitating at the Oregon Coast Aquarium from 1996-1998 before being transferred to another facility in Iceland.

The Pacific Northwest is home to two distinct groups of Orcas: resident and transient. While they may look the same to the casual observer, they are in fact distinct ecotypes with their own patterns and behaviors. Puget Sound, WA residents, for instance, have a diet consisting of mainly native salmon. The transient pods we observe on the Oregon coast are Biggs Orcas, travelers that subsist on seals and sea lions, dolphins, and other whale species.

killer whales, infographic, research gate
Image Source: Research Gate

At Cape Disappointment on May 8, 2023, a large group of Biggs Orcas was observed actively attacking a Gray whale calf with its mother.

pike bremmer, orcas, killer whales, depoe bay, oregon, gray whale calf attack, 2023
Image credit: Pike Bremmer, Facebook

Observer Rosalind Johnson said on Discovering Depoe Bay Oregon, "I watched this from my deck; I counted 10 orca breaches and a lot of tale pounding. The whales moved in unison like dolphins at times and other times in two formations toward the greys. Lots of circling and tale pounding. Sometimes they seemed like pack wolves and other times like sharks."

Other eye-witnesses and commentators expressed fascination mixed with sadness. According to sources on the above-mentioned Facebook page, the mother whale refused to leave her dead calf, and it's unclear whether she survived.

pike bremmer, orcas, killer whales, breaching, depoe bay, oregon, gray whale calf attack, 2023
Image credit: Pike Bremmer, Facebook

"The orca's prey includes other marine mammals such as; sea lions, dolphins, and gray whale calves. However, a marine biologist said an attack by orcas on adult gray whales is quite stunning and a rare occurrence." -Discovering Depoe Bay Oregon

The Circle of Life can be brutal, but also necessary for the survival of all creatures we share this planet with; fascinating, yet heartbreaking.

Read more about PNW Orca groups and subspecies at GeorgiaStraight.org.

Special thanks to Gregg Lincoln, the Oregon Coast Killer Whale Monitoring Program, and Pike Bremer for his incredible photographs.

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Written By Danielle Denham

Danielle Denham is an award-winning and published photographer who loves her home state of Oregon. Recently she was featured on a regional-Emmy-winning episode of Oregon Field Guide, and is currently writing a book on Abandoned Oregon. When she isn't out and about exploring for derelict places to photograph, you may find her hanging around in Eugene Oregon with Tyler Willford and his two awesome kiddos.

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