PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — They have names like Scarlett, Roller Skate and Solé. They are 3 of the hundreds of gray whales that call the Oregon coast home. Right now most of them are wintering in the warm waters of Baja, Mexico.
But they’ll be back — and Oregon State University researchers will be waiting.
Every year about 250 gray whales spend the summer and fall feeding off the Oregon coast. But they like the warmer water of Mexico in the winter.
“They’re probably all there now, enjoying the warm waters but they’ll start their migration north again in March or April and start showing up here again in June or July,” said Leigh Torres, a principal investigator at OSU’s Marine Mammal Institute.
The whales’ stories tell us a great deal about the health of the ocean, she said.
“We study these whales, how they’re living, how they’re feeding, how they’re doing right in our environment,” Torres told KOIN 6 News. “There’s a lot to learn about whales’ behavior. For instance, where they’re feeding, where there’s good habitat one year versus another year.”
“The names match their pigmentation patterns, so Roller Skate has two dots like the big wheels on a roller skate, and Scarlett has a big scar on her back,” she said. “Some whales are more shy of boats and other whales come right up to boats. So, yeah, they’re definitely different and have different stories.”
When they feed on plankton and small marine life during the summer, the Oregon coast is one of the best places to see them.
“You can often see them better from the shore than from a boat because they come so close to shore,” she said.
Gray whales can live to be up to 80 years old if they can avoid injury or loss of places to feed.
“There’s a lot of things that we do every day that impacts these whales’ lives,” Torres said.
So as they return year after year, the research could teach us how to treat them — and the ocean — better.