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Coastal Animal Concerns

Category: General Article

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Bats: Despite an ill-gotten reputation which makes these small flying mammals a staple of horror films, bats are passive, reclusive animals which present no direct threat to people. Bats perform a remarkable role in an ecosystem, some acting as pollinators for plants and many consume vast amounts of nuisance insects such as mosquitoes. Indirectly, however, bats are one of the leading wild species to carry the rabies virus. This highly infectious disease is transmitted through the saliva and usually introduced to an animal through a bite. When bats become infected, they are unable to fly and will drop to the ground where people and domesticated animals like dogs and cats may encounter them. As a rule of thumb, you should never handle a grounded bat or any wild animal. Instead, contact your animal control authorities so the bat can be collected and tested for rabies. Remember, rabies can affect any mammal and is 100% fatal. A treatment does exists for humans but it is not guaranteed to stop the progression of the disease. Make sure your pets are vaccinated against rabies and protect yourself by never coming into physical contact with a wild animal. You can learn more by visiting the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife website

Black Bears: With the extirpation of Grizzly Bears in Oregon in the early twentieth century, this became the largest and only bear in the state. As with most wild animals, Black Bears would prefer to flee from rather than confront people, but hikers and campers may occasionally surprise these animals and change a startling incident to a dangerous one. This is especially true if the bear feels threatened or is a sow (female) with cubs. Since bears are both omnivorous and frequent scavengers, many enter campsites to raid carelessly stored food or root through trash. Securing both of these will help avoid conflicts. When hiking in bear country, make a game out of making yourself known by clapping your hands loudly every few minutes and calling out, “Hello, bear, bear, bear!” Yeah, it sounds silly but if bears hear you coming, they’ll typically leave the area and you shouldn’t have any problems. You can learn more about being safe in bear country by visiting the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife website. 


Cougars: These cats are one of the largest predators on the Oregon Coast, with adult males reaching up to 9 feet (2.7 m) in length (measured from the nose to the tip of the tail) and weighing as much as 200 pounds (90 kg). They generally hunt during the twilight or nighttime hours, using stealth and cunning to ambush their prey. Typical prey animals include deer and Roosevelt Elk, although sometimes Cougars will take domesticated stock too. Because they are an obligate carnivore, they are unlikely to scavenge trash or campsites as a bear might. However, hikers can have an unpleasant encounter with a Cougar when the animal is challenged by unleashed dogs or roused by unsupervised children. Learn more about peacefully coexisting with Cougars by viewing these guidelines from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Sharks: While shark attack on humans is extremely rare, some potentially dangerous species do live in Oregon coastal waters and could present a threat to swimmers and surfers. Since 2001, there have been nine recorded shark attacks on surfers, none of them fatal. The largest predatory shark known to swim in areas close to the beach, and the most likely candidate in all these incidents, is the Great White Shark. As scary as the thought of encountering a shark is, the chance of attack is very small and we’re more like to receive injury from some common insects than a shark. Still, there are some general tips to help you avoid sharks. First, don’t swim or surf during the twilight hours when sharks will be actively feeding, and never in areas where people are fishing, effluent is being discharged into the ocean or where seals and sea lions are swimming. Never surf alone and when you are on the water, be aware of your surroundings. Often sharks will investigate a potential target before attacking. This could include swimming around you or even bumping you with their bodies. If you believe a shark is nearby and is behaving in a threatening way, return to the beach and notify the authorities so they can warn other surfers and swimmers.

Venomous Insects and Reptiles

Oregon has plenty of insects and reptiles, some with a nasty sting or bite which can turn a wonderful day outside into a rotten experience. If you’re out hiking or camping, it’s always advisable to carry insect repellent to help curb common annoyances like mosquito bites. (See Outdoor Safety for additional tips.) Wearing protective but breathable clothing can also help protect you from some insects by keeping exposed skin to a minimum. Preventing a nasty encounter with venomous rattlesnakes can mean learning a little about their daily habits and always watching where you put your hands and feet. Take a look at the list of venomous animals shown below to learn more.

Hobo Spider (Tegenaria agrestis): This large arachnid can measure as much as two inches (5.08 cm) across and is brown with white chevron patterns on its abdomen. It often resides in basements, attics, storage areas and similar places where human activity is sporadic and the environment is cool and dark. Most people don’t realize they’ve been bitten by a Hobo Spider until a painful red welt appears hours or even days later. Other systemic symptoms can include nausea, fatigue, blurred vision and memory loss. Bites can present a serious risk to the very young, the elderly or people with weakened immune systems. Immediate medical care should be sought.

Western Black Widow (Latrodectus hesperus): Like the Hobo Spider, Black Widows are common around homes, seeking out dark, cool corners where insects are plentiful. Only the females of this species are dangerous and can be readily identified by their glossy black bodies with a bright red hourglass shape on the underside of the abdomen. Symptoms of a bite can include an ulcer-like wound, headache, nausea and abdominal pain. Bites can present a serious risk to the very young, the elderly or people with weakened immune systems. Immediate medical care should be sought.

Yellow Sac Spiders (various species): Similar to the previous two species, the Yellow Sac Spider can be found hiding in garages, basements, woodpiles and storage areas. There are two major species of this spider but both are pale yellow to yellow-green in color. Spider activity may be easier to spot outdoors where they will spin a web. When indoors, the Yellow Sac Spiders are more likely to create small silky sacs which are used to ensnare prey. Bite symptoms are similar to that of the Hobo Spider. Bites can present a serious risk to the very young, the elderly or people with weakened immune systems. Immediate medical care should be sought.

Wasps, Bees and Yellow Jackets (various species): If you’ve ever had a picnic invaded by these insects, you know how irritating it can be. It can also be dangerous, as all of these insects can inflict painful stings and may attack en masse if defending their nests. Sometimes, the best defense against these insects are your ears – as you may hear them long before you see them. Don’t ever approach hives and leave the area if you stumble upon one. Stings from these animals can result in very mild reactions like temporary soreness to severe allergic reactions which require immediate medical attention.

Western Rattlesnake (Croatus viridis and subspecies): This is Oregon’s only indigenous (naturally-occurring) rattlesnake and it is uncommon on the coast although can be found through the adjacent valleys in the southwestern corner of the state. The snake has a flat, triangular-shaped head which is noticeably wider than its neck. The colors and patterns of these snakes may change between specimens depending on the habitat where they reside, but generally they will have a distinctive diamond-like pattern running across the back and black-and-white stripes at the base of the tail just before the rattles. These snakes will be more active during early morning and evening, and will avoid the heat of the day. Although rattlesnakes may shake their rattles to warn away threats, this is not a hard-fast rule and sometimes they can strike without warning. If hiking or camping, educate yourself on the snake’s preferred habitat and daily habits. Always watch where you step and where you place your hands. If bitten, seek immediate medical care. The snake has two subspecies also found within Oregon: the Northern Pacific Rattlesnake (Croatus viridian oreganus) and Great Basin Rattlesnake (Croatus viridian lutosus). There may be differences in color between the subspecies, ranging from dark gray, greenish brown, yellow, salmon and black, although all will have the distinctive rattles and diamond-pattern on the back.

Stranded Marine Mammals

It’s not uncommon for visitors to the Oregon Coast to come upon various marine mammals on the beaches or rocky outcrops. In the vast majority of cases, these animals are performing a normal activity – like resting or sunning themselves. In some cases, the animal may have stranded itself, be injured, or is in some form of distress. Whether it’s a large whale or a Sea Otter pup, state and federal law prohibits you from approaching or interacting with marine mammals. An effective animal stranding protocol has been set up in Oregon to deal with these situations using highly-trained personnel, veterinarians and scientists. The best thing you can do is activate this system and allow the professionals to do their jobs. In Oregon, call 911 or the State Police directly at 800-452-7888. Give the emergency operator detailed information on the type of animal, its location and physical condition as best you can assess it. Keep other people and dogs away from the animal until help arrives.

Injured Birds

Distressed sea and shore birds may also be encountered when visiting coastal beaches, but the same rules apply to birds as they do to marine mammals – even though a Pigeon Guillemot may not seem to present the same safety concerns as a California Sea Lion. All of these birds are protected by law and it is illegal to approach or handle them. Instead, note the bird’s location and its infirmity (looks like a chick too young to fly, it has a broken wing, etc.) Then call your local wildlife rehabilitation organization or 911 if you don’t have the appropriate contact number. If feasible, stay nearby until rescuers arrive.

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