“Roller Skate” is a female who was first observed as a calf in 2015, making her 6 years old (as of 2021). She, much like Equal, is a young “sub-adult” whale who experienced the trauma of having fishing gear entangled around her fluke. We documented the entanglement in 2019 and Roller Skate’s return to Oregon feeding grounds in 2020 with a very damaged fluke, but we did not see her in 2021.
Gray whales share their foraging grounds in Oregon nearshore waters with many other users during the summer months, including recreational and commercial fishermen. Whale entanglements in fishing gear have steadily increased in U.S. West Coast waters and we are currently working with the fishermen and ODFW on a research project to better understand the overlap between baleen whales and fishing gear. Roller Skate’s story exemplifies why this research is needed and how harmful and sad whale entanglements in fishing gear can be. On September 6th, 2019, we documented fishing line wrapped around Roller Skate’s fluke. The entanglement site looked very painful, with the line slicing deep into her fluke and the wound appeared fleshy. Although it was extremely unpleasant to witness and undoubtedly caused Roller Skate pain and stress, she demonstrated her tough resilience when we re-sighted her again in 2020 feeding in the same place we last saw her in 2019. The entangled line amputated part of Roller Skate’s fluke and the wound was infested with cyamids (also known as whale lice), which is a common occurrence at injury sites on gray whales. We observed Roller Skate foraging on many days in 2020, but her body condition remained thin, and we could see her diving ability was compromised by the injury. At this point we don’t know Roller Skate’s fate, but we remain hopeful that we will see her again in Oregon waters. Her story reminds us that what we do in the ocean can have dramatic effects on marine life if we are not careful.