Humpback whales are visiting the Columbia River this week.
Oregon Public Broadcasting producer Vince Patton, who spotted the whales on Monday just downstream from the Astoria Megler Bridge leading towards Washington, shot some video footage of the sea creatures as they joined a “feeding frenzy of pelicans diving into the water”, according to OregonLive.
Humpbacks have never been seen so far inland along the Columbia River according to biologist Deborah Jacques and experts believe it may have resulted from a food shortage in the whales’ natural habitat.
“What happens at this time of the year, when there’s not a lot of rain and there’s not a lot of river flow pushing the ocean water out, the tides bring a lot of ocean water in and with that ocean water come these small fish.”
Whales have been spotted in abundance on the Oregon coast, and whale watching tours said that the spotting of whales have been in some unexpected places.
Zamon estimated that there are at least two dozen humpback whales now in the Columbia River.
The research team point out a considerably strong El Nino this year as a reason for the whales’ rare appearance in the area.
Bruce Mate, director of the Marine Mammal Institute at Oregon State University’s Hatfield Marine Science Center, told Portland CBS affiliate KOIN 6 News that the whales were likely chasing anchovies and that El Niño conditions are driving them closer to shore in search for food. However, they are usually 5 to 15 miles offshore.
El Niño is characterized by unusually warm ocean temperatures in the Equatorial Pacific and can significantly impact weather and climate around the globe.
El Nino is expected to cause major disruptions with weather patterns in the winter and spring during this cycle.