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“Something transitory; lasting a day”

Last updated 2/4/2012

All materials © Terry L. Morse. All rights reserved.

The Porpoise-Driven Life

Harbor Porpoise Stranding, Nye Beach, 25 April 2011

A young, yearling (Jim Rice, Oregon Marine Mammal Stranding Network, personal communication) harbor porpoise (Phocoena phocoena) stranded on Nye Beach in Newport, opposite the Shilo Inn, on the morning of 25 April 2011. Contrary to some news accounts (http://newslincolncounty.com/?p=22284), here is what happened as I observed it (note that although both the man who tried to rescue the porpoise on this page and Jim Rice, shown on the Lincoln County News site, were wearing blue caps, they are not the same person):

The incident started a little before 11:55 am. PDT. I was having lunch at Georgie’s Beachside Grill, on the bluff south of the Hallmark, looking through binoculars at an object on the beach, trying to decide whether it was a rock or, perhaps, a seal, when I saw a clean-shaven man in a blue cap approach the object, look at it, then pick it up and carry it out into the water.  That was when I saw that it had a dorsal fin and was most likely a porpoise.  The porpoise stranded again, and the man again picked it up and carried it to the water.

Additional people gathered at the scene, including some with dogs. They continued to try and get it to swim, though it was thrashing around and clearly (to me, at least) distressed, and repeatedly returned to shore.  Someone with an off-leash dog allowed the dog to approach the porpoise closely and repeatedly.

I went down to the beach and photographed the porpoise (from a distance) and the individuals involved until 12:25 pm.  I suggested to everyone that they were contributing to its distress and should not crowd around it or let the dog near it, but this didn't seem to concern them.  I returned to Georgie’s and saw Jim Rice drive up and join the group, at which time I had to leave to go to work.

Here is the story in pictures. The long time between some photos reflects the time it took me to get from Georgies down to the beach, or the omission of redundant or irrelevant photos (e.g., people interacting with each other):

11:55:14 a.m.: First attempt to return the porpoise to the water. 11:55:20 a.m.: The porpoise re-strands.
11:55:39 to 11:55:51 a.m.: Second attempt to re-swim it.
12:07:57 to 12:08:07 p.m.: Trying to keep the porpoise from re-stranding; a dog is curious.
12:09:01 to 12:15:50 p.m.: The porpoise re-strands; a crowd gathers.
12:15:58 p.m.: A wave comes in, the porpoise begins thrashing, and mother and child retreat. 12:16:45 p.m.: Man’s best friend, still curious.
12:22:20 p.m.: The desire to touch, a very human emotion. 12:24:26 p.m.: Dog’s best friend, also curious.
Close-up of the porpoise. Note the single opening of the blow-hole, characteristic of toothed whales. Baleen whales have two nostrils. The blunt snout and short, triangular dorsal fin distinguish porpoises from dolphins, which generally have more pointed snouts and hooked, sickle-shaped dorsal fins.

Editorial comment. The desire to rescue the porpoise, to examine it closely, and to touch it is human and understandable. However, this is not good for the porpoise. If you find a stranded cetacean (whale, dolphin, or porpoise), you should:



Source: http://mmi.oregonstate.edu/ommsn/outreach/dos-donts. Available in durable brochure form (Marine Mammals on the Beach:: When and How to Respond in the Pacific Northwest and Southern Alaska) from http://tinyurl.com/3lkeuke.

In the end, the porpoise was too weak to be saved. The outcome would probably have been the same even if the bystanders hadn’t handled and crowded it. They may have caused it unnecessary distress in its final minutes, however, which I’m sure was not their intention. Leave it to the professionals. You can make it worse.

“There is always a greater love. Those who wish to pet and baby wild animals ‘love’ them. But those who respect their natures and wish to let them live normal lives, love them more.” – Edwin Way Teale, Circle of the Seasons: The Journal of a Naturalist’s Year.

Oops, I Did it Again

Juvenile Northern Elephant Seal (Mirounga angustirostris) attempts to haul out on Nye Beach

On 20 December, 2011, an ailing juvenile northern elephant seal that appeared to have skin lesions attempted to strand on Nye Beach, in virtually the same location as the dolphin described above. Two people approached to photograph it, ultimately driving it back into the cold Pacific water. There is a good chance it didn't survive.

11:32 a.m. PST: The seal attempts to haul out. (I am photographing it from a restaurant on top of the cliff above the beach and did nothing to disturb it.)
11:37 a.m. PST: The first photographer approaches the seal, driving it back toward the water. Fortunately, they left and the seal moved back up the beach. 11:43 a.m. PST: The second photographer approaches, much more closely than the first pair. The seal turns away and goes back into the water. The photographer walked off, unconcerned.

© 2008- Terry L. Morse. All rights reserved.
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