The sight of small, skinned animal carcasses bobbing on the water at the Port of Brookings Harbor last week was disturbing. The smell was even worse.
However, by Friday port employees had cleaned up at least 2,000 pounds of rotting mink carcasses that Port Director Ted Fitzgerald said was likely accidently dumped into the port.
"At this point it doesn't appear overtly intentional," Fitzgerald said.
This spill also poses no health hazard to humans or wildlife at this time, he said.
More carcasses were expected to surface, so port employees continued to patrol the port last weekend.
Mink carcasses are sometimes used by commercial fisherman as crab bait, Fitzgerald said. The meat can be purchased frozen from mink farms and arrive as full carcasses without their pelts.
Citizens and port employees first noticed dozens of carcasses floating in both the commercial and sport fishing basins around 9 a.m. Wednesday morning. The Curry Coastal Pilot received two calls from people saying they could see animal body parts with claws and tails.
Fitzgerald and port employees scrambled to place a boom around a commercial dock underneath which a large amount of carcasses had been found. Next, they used a boat to patrol the basins, using nets to scoop up carcasses.
Fitzgerald said he immediately contacted the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, but on Thursday he was told by the agency that it wasn't in its jurisdiction. Fitzgerald did not think the carcasses posed a health hazard.
"We've collected most of the meat at this time," he said Friday afternoon.
Fitzgerald called the Oregon State Police to investigate the incident and determine if there was any wrongdoing.
Neither Fitzgerald nor OSP Officer Brandon Smithers knew exactly how the carcasses ended up in the water.
Fitzgerald believes that a fisherman's freezer at the port broke, allowing several tons of frozen mink carcasses to thaw and rot. The fisherman, he said, was likely trying to move the bad bait to a waiting boat when some of it spilled into the water Tuesday night.
"I'm really angry about this," Fitzgerald said. "What really gets me is that he didn't bother telling anyone that some of the bait hit the water. He had a responsibility to notify others that it happened."
Smithers said he had been interviewing people at the port, but it was too early in his investigation to determine what happened and what, if any, charges might be filed.