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Large Predator - Probably Shark - Roaming Off Oregon Coast


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Secrets of the Season

Large Predator - Probably Shark - Roaming Off Oregon Coast

Staff ready the harbor seal to be picked up off the beach

(Seaside, Oregon) – With hints of the movie “Jaws,” there is apparently a run of shark attacks on sea mammals on Oregon beaches, causing officials to say there seems to be a “large predator working the north Oregon coast.”

This last weekend was a busy one for staff at the Seaside Aquarium, who comprise the Marine Mammal Stranding Network for the north coast. Two mammals washed up with appear to be major shark bites.

Friday, a dead harbor seal drifted onto the beach at Seaside, with a two-foot chunk taken out of its back. And since Saturday, an extremely unhappy California Sea Lion has been resting on a beach with a sizable wound.

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In both cases, officials believe it was a shark – likely a great white shark.

Boothe stands over the dead seal and its enormous wound

Early on Friday morning, a dead harbor seal washed ashore in Seaside with a gaping hole in its back. Members of the network retrieved it late that afternoon. This time, an enormous, two-foot hole in the body set this deceased seal apart from the numerous others that wash up periodically throughout the year.

The seal was about four and a half feet long, and a full-grown adult, probably around six years old.

“It could have been an orca,” said Keith Chandler, with the Seaside Aquarium. “But it’s more likely a shark. A killer whale would likely mess the thing up a lot more, or eat the whole thing.”

A necropsy done later on the seal revealed the bite hole to be 25 inches in length – more than two feet.

Chandler and Boothe putting the seal on a stretcher

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Chandler said by looking at the size of the bite it had to be something about the size of a great white. Although salmon sharks are not known for eating mammals, and that aspect of their existence is somewhat debated, he said he believed it still could be a salmon shark that chomped on the seal. “Just because a lot of people don’t think it’s likely they eat mammals, doesn’t mean it’s true,” Chandler said.

Chandler said he thinks it’s possible the culprit was a salmon shark because there are more of them out there. But because of the size of the wound, he believes it more likely to be a great white.

Also, the gap in the body had a somewhat unusual placement. “They often swim upside down, so they probably weren’t paying attention when the shark came down on it,” Chandler said. “I’ve never seen a hole that big in a seal.”

“The entire backbone is gone,” said Tiffany Boothe, with the aquarium and the Marine Mammal Stranding Network. “This was a fresh kill. It probably didn’t happen far from shore.”

Chandler approaches the disgruntled sea lion (photo Tiffany Boothe)

Meanwhile, a full-grown sea lion has been nursing itself on a beach with a shark bite in lower back area. Chandler would not identify the beach where it’s resting to keep the public away.

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“It’s one disgruntled sea lion,” Chandler said. “I couldn’t get too close to look at the wound ‘cause it threatened to bite me.”

The tear is mostly in the fur of the sea lion, about one foot across, with some of the flesh torn. It is, however, very infected and obviously causing the creature considerable pain.

“It’s oozing a lot of green infection,” Chandler said. “It’s clearly been dealing with that wound for some time. It’s definitely a shark bite.”

Some great whites do wander around the waters off Oregon, but not too many, said Boothe. These attacks are likely by a single shark, and fairly close to shore. Sharks are loners and simply go where the food is, and it doesn’t take him long to swim long distances up and down the coast, covering a lot of territory.

The sea lion's wound (photo Tiffany Boothe)

“We had a lot of southeastern winds this summer, which brought the warm water currents,” Boothe said. “They usually reside off of the coast and were brought closer to shore. This brought the baitfish in closer, which brought bigger prey in closer as well.

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“I don't believe anything unusual is going on. I think that because of the warmer waters this summer, the White Sharks just moved in a little closer.

"And because the sharks are closer in shore we are seeing their activities. Usually when a shark attacks, the victim sinks to the bottom of the ocean, or may wash in much later too decomposed to tell what had happened to it.”

Boothe said great whites are anywhere from 20-23 feet long. The size of the bite correlates with the size of the shark.

Sightings of possible sharks in Rockaway this summer caused officials to warn swimmers and surfers for a time

“Larger whites can tolerate water temperatures down to about 50 degrees,” she said. “These sharks may have initially come in closer due to the warmer temperatures, and then hung around once they discovered that the feeding was good.”

This time of year always brings in bigger waves, which in turn attracts a large contingent of surfers to the coast.

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No, say Boothe and Chandler.

“This amount of activity seems a bit unusual,” Chandler said. “But you’re still 100 times more likely to be in a car wreck on the way to the coast. If you’re a surfer, just be aware. There does seem to be a large predator working the north Oregon coast. But sharks always have been living around us. I know if I were a surfer, it wouldn’t stop me. That’s just one of the risks they know they take.”

Boothe said surfers should be on their guard a little more than usual, but she added a little surreal humor.

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Boothe said great white off the north Oregon coast is anywhere from 20-23 feet long. The size of the bite correlates with the size of the shark.

“Larger white sharks can tolerate water temperatures down to about 50 degrees,” she said. “These sharks may have initially come in closer due to the warmer temperatures, and then hung around once they discovered that the feeding was good.”

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