Whales in Columbia River are causing quite a stir with local residents living in the vicinity of the Astoria-Megler Bridge, Fort Columbia State Park and Chinook. The river is located at the border of Oregon and Washington as the humpback whales were spotted just offshore from the Middle Village/Station Camp Unit of Lewis and Clark National Park.
Tuesday morning, Sept. 22, photographer Harvey Chatfield, who posts on Facebook at his Half Blind Photography page, saw the humpback whales for the first time east of the Chinook tunnel on U.S. Highway 101. Chatfield also photographed a humpback spouting in the north channel of the river at Megler on Monday, Sept. 21.
On Sept. 19, several local residents reported seeing humpbacks, including one that fully breached out of the river east of the national park’s Dismal Nitch Unit. Other residents reported seeing as many as 7 to 10 of them spouting miles apart off Seaside Oregon.
The humpback whales in Columbia River was unexpected and caused several people to stop their vehicles to take a look at the rare treat.
Humpback whales have been spotted in the Columbia River just downstream of the bridge to Washington. Biologist Deborah Jacques, who studies pelicans, said she’s never seen humpbacks so far in from the ocean.
“It’s really great to be able to see it,” she said, “but you also wonder what’s going on out in the ocean. Is there poor productivity out there this year with the blob and El Nino conditions?”
“We’re predicting that this El Nino could be among the strongest El Ninos in the historical record dating back to 1950,” Mike Halpert, the deputy director of the Climate Prediction Center, part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said during a press conference. That also means that humpback whales and other life may be using the Columbia River as an evacuation route.
The storm is a cyclical climate phenomenon rooted in the tropical Pacific that features a buildup of warmer-than-normal waters in the central and eastern portions of the basin. Over the last few months, those waters have been steadily heating up.
In July, temperatures in a key region were more than 2 degrees fahrenheit above average, a departure that comes in second only to the blockbuster El Nino of 1997-1998.
Professor Bruce Mate at Oregon State University, one of the world’s experts on whales, confirms that El Nino ocean conditions are driving many sea animals toward shore looking for food.
The humpback whales in Columbia River are drawn by food and they’re not alone. Large numbers of pelicans and sea lions likely have been feasting on anchovies.