Motorists travelling on Highway 101 near Gold Beach in southern Oregon on Monday were met with a surprising sight: a 78-foot (24-metre) blue whale carcass stretched across the beach.

Although there are records of gray whales turning up on Oregon beaches, a blue whale is an incredibly rare sight. Bruce Mate, marine mammal director at Oregon State University’s Hatfield Marine Science Center, who has been conducting research in the state since 1968, claims this is the first time that he has witnessed a blue whale washed up on an Oregon beach.

The cause of death is still not known, however, scientists have found injuries on the carcass which they think may have been caused by an orca, a shark or possibly even a boat.

According to Mate, environmental factors may have also played a role in the whale’s death. “[Over] the last two years there’s been what’s called a warm water blob developing off California and reaching up to our neck of the woods,” Mate told OPB. “And we’re bracing for a really strong El Nino this year. All three of those years are going to be really bad for whales that feed on krill”. Mate assessed the whale’s condition and concluded that it had a “very sick blubber layer.”

Normal protocol for a whale wash-up involves burying the carcass, however, given the rarity of this species, a decision has been made to preserve the skeleton, which will go on display at the Hatfield Marine Science Center. The Oregon parks department are leading efforts to strip the carcass before plans will be made to relocate the bones. Preserving whale bones takes time and it may be a few years before the skeleton is put on display.

Earth Touch corespondent Sarah Keartes will be heading to Ophir Beach tomorrow to bring you more footage and info, so watch this space!

Header image: Bud Guinn/YouTube