Dead Orca Wrapped in Fishing Gear Spotted Off Oregon in Rare Entanglement

An orca carcass wrapped in fishing gear has been spotted off the coast of Oregon, triggering a search to recover what may be the first occurrence of a dead killer whale in the state.

A fisherman from Salem, Oregon, uploaded a picture of the orca's body wrapped in fishing gear to the website iFish.com, which he estimated to be between 16 and 18 foot long.

The orca had a crab pot line wrapped around its tail, and was found around 25 miles out from Newport.

"It's a sight I wish I could un-see," the fisherman said in the post.

Pollution
Stock images of an orca and fishing gear that has washed up on a beach. The dead orca was entangled in a crab fishing line. iStock / Getty Images Plus

According to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, orcas are most often seen off Depoe Bay and Newport, attracted by the lure of seals and sea lions near the coast.

Multiple sightings of the animal have been reported in central coastal Oregon throughout the spring and summer of 2022 so far.

The 13 million metric tonnes of plastic pollution that enters the ocean each year is killing a plethora of marine species all around the globe, but it affects larger animals the most. Animals such as turtles and seabirds will eat plastic waste thinking it is food, clogging up their digestive system to the point where they starve to death, as they cannot fit any real food in.

Many animal deaths are as a result of entanglement. Creatures including seals, dolphins, sharks and whales are strangled by abandoned fishing gear or other plastic string waste, causing them to suffocate or drown.

However, orcas dying from plastic pollution is relatively uncommon.

"As far as I know, entanglements of killer whales in fishery gear are quite rare," Jim Rice, stranding program manager of Oregon State University's Marine Mammal Institute in Newport, told YachatsNews. "I know of no prior lethal entanglements with this species in Oregon waters."

According to Josh McInnes, a marine mammal researcher at the University of British Columbia, the specific cause of the orca's death will need a necropsy to fully elucidate. Without a post-mortem investigation, it is possible that the animal died prior to being entangled in the fishing line.

Scientists are now attempting to find and recover the body of the orca to investigate how it died.

According to YachatsNews, Kristin Wilkinson, the large whale entanglement coordinator for the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), ran an ocean drift model that found that the orca was most recently floating north, and is unlikely to wash up on shore.

"The goal is to learn as much as we can, both about the whale and what happened to it, the cause of death," Michael Milstein, a spokesman for the NOAA Fisheries-West Coast Region, told Oregon Public Broadcasting. "These are opportunities to learn what we can do to better protect whales, we don't have that many opportunities to see and learn about orcas off the Oregon coast."