Humpback Whales Spotted In Columbia River, Likely Due To El Nino

A group of humpback whales have been filmed swimming among boaters in the Columbia River, having moved into the waterway from their normal home in the Pacific.

The whales were spotted near Astoria, just downstream from the Astoria Megler Bridge linking Oregon to Washington, as Oregon Public Broadcasting points out. OPB producer Vince Patton reportedly observed a feeding frenzy, during which pelicans were diving into the water after fish and began filming, capturing footage of the humpbacks. According to biologist Deborah Jacques, who studies pelicans, it is unusual to see humpback whales so far from the ocean. Jacques asserted that she has never seen humpbacks so far inland along the Columbia River.

“It’s really great to be able to see it, 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?”

Researchers point to a significantly strong El Nino this year as a cause for the whales’ unusual appearance. Bruce Mate, who has spent more than four decades researching the behavior of marine mammals, points out that warming water temperatures have made it difficult for animals at the bottom of the food chain to thrive. As Oregon Live points out, this applies to a number of species, including anchovies, a main food source for humpback whales.

According to Mate, the whales likely traveled so far upriver in search of food, as they aren’t able to find prey animals in their usual areas.

“They’re not finding a lot off shore in areas where they’re accustomed to feeding.”

Mate also cautioned that as El Nino events become more common (or possibly occur closer together), it may be far more likely for residents along the Columbia River and other inland waterways to see animals like humpback whales swimming upriver in search of food.

This year’s El Nino has also been blamed for a number of sightings of sharks along the Pacific coast, as multiple species move into areas in which they are normally not found. Researchers assert that there is little doubt that this year’s El Nino will lead to widespread climate disruption in the coming months, impacting not only the humpback whales, but a host of other species as well.

[Photo by Terry Howard – Own Work via Wikimedia Commons | CC BY-SA 3.0]