Beached Sperm Whale

On Jan. 15, 2023, a dead sperm whale washed up on the coast near Clatsop County, Ore. The cause of death was a ship strike. 

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) fisheries agency discovered a large, bloody gash on the side of the whale, indicating that a ship crash probably killed it.

It washed up dead, but a spokesperson from the NOAA announced that the whale was alive when it was struck. Biologists cut the whale open and took samples, discovering that it was a 20-year-old male.

The NOAA biologists also removed the whale’s teeth and jaw because those parts are actually extremely valuable on the black market, pricing up to tens of thousands of dollars. There is also a treasured wax-like substance in the whale’s head. However, the biologists wanted to protect those parts, as sperm whales have been considered an endangered species since the 1980s. In 2019, the population of sperm whales was only around 2,000 in the Pacific Northwest.

This event was not that surprising, considering that sperm whales are the third most likely to be stranded in Oregon. They also migrate south during this time of year. 

Most whale deaths are human-related. This whale died from a ship strike, but there are various other reasons for beached whales. These reasons can include diseases, pollution, and injuries from fishing gear, such as fish netting getting swallowed. 

Dead, washed-ashore whales are usually buried where they landed on the beach, and there isn’t a plan for what to do with this sperm whale. However, officials keep curious onlookers at a distance from the carcass. 

Other records of beached whales in Oregon date back to 1979, when an astounding 41 living sperm whales were found on the shore. Hundreds of volunteers helped to pour buckets of seawater, but all the whales ended up dying. 

The whale remains weighed from 800 to 1,000 tons, so they were buried under the sand where they landed. Still, no one knows the reason for why 41 sperm whales voluntarily beached themselves. 

Ordinarily, sperm whales live up to around 60 years and can dive up to 10,000 feet deep in the ocean. However, climate change and pollution harm these animals. 

Mariam Taheri (11) expresses her sorrow for the dead whale by commenting, “The echoes of the whale’s song are forever lost in the depths of the ocean.”

In order to reduce the risk of harming sperm whales and other sea creatures, people are encouraged to conserve ennergy. For example, reducing electricity and water usage can greatly benefit the environment for animals such as sperm whales.

Lily Schieber (11), the vice president of the marine biology club at Aliso, encourages students to be aware of how their actions can impact the environment, especially the oceans. She says, “Ocean life is beautiful and we need to preserve it. Start by taking small steps to prevent unnecessary harm.”

Although it is sad that a sperm whale was beached, people can begin to take action to prevent future harm done to ocean creatures.