180 miles of Oregon coast travel: Astoria, Seaside, Cannon Beach, Manzanita,
Nehalem, Wheeler, Rockaway, Garibaldi, Tillamook, Oceanside, Pacific City,
Lincoln City, Depoe Bay, Newport, Waldport, Yachats & Florence.
Storms Probably Don't Affect Whales, Says
Oregon Coast Expert
|Whale watchers keep a lookout at the Whale
Watch Center in Depoe Bay
(Depoe Bay, Oregon) – Recent storms on the Oregon
coast seemed to have drained the cetacean spectacle a bit at Oregon’s
whale watching central: Depoe Bay. There, the Whale
Watch Center, run by Oregon State Parks and Recreation, sits on a
basalt bluff that juts just a ways out into the ocean, keeping a close
eye on the great beasts that wander past or loiter around the vicinity
chomping on tons of tiny shrimp. They noticed a dramatic decline in whale
spottings since the big storms of late October that brought huge swells
and 80 mph gusts in some spots.
But are the two directly related?
|Whale by Depoe Bay's seawall (photo courtesy Whale Watch
Maybe this particular time, but not in general, says lead
interpreter Morris Grover.
“We don't what happened to cause the change,”
Grover said. “We can only speculate.”
He says two options seem most likely. One is that the storm
was big, and more typical of winter storms rather than fall season. “It
may have been an indicator to the whales to begin heading south to the
Baja,” Grover said.
The second possibility is that the 26-foot swells in the
Depoe Bay area might have adversely affected their main source of food:
mysid shrimp. These and other food sources might have been scattered or
spooked to stay deeper beneath the waves. “That may have caused
the whales to move to another area that offered a better source.”
|Whale spouting (photo courtesy Whale Watch
Depoe Bay is a hotspot in terms of being a feeding ground
for gray whales.
“After the big storm, we saw a drop in whale sightings
from a daily average of 11 a day for the two weeks prior to the storm,
to three a day for the two weeks after,” Grover said.
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Grover said whales are used to wild weather and waves;
that sort of stuff isn’t scaring them off. But those manic oceanic
displays – or any rough conditions, for that matter – do present
problems for people’s ability to see them.
“Rough weather presents a visual whale watching problem,”
Grover said. “A whale’s back or tail usually would only be
visible about three to six feet above the water line. A four- to eight-foot
wave would make them ‘invisible’ to watchers looking across
the waves. Even the whale’s spout that could be as tall as 12 feet
is usually blown sideways by the wind, making it only three to four feet
tall. We have seen whales during storms, but that is usually when a swell
pushes the whale up to where we can see it.”
|Whale Watch Center, Depoe Bay
A big whale watch week is coming up in late December with
another peak migration, probably resulting in around 200 whales making
their way to this coastline.
This coincides with one of the big storm watch weeks of
the whole year, but storms like this don’t spook whales.
“The whales will migrate regardless of weather,”
Grover said. “They are driven by nature to get to the Baja for birthing;
pregnant females are usually the first whales headed south. Weather is
just something they live with. It’s their ocean and they are used
|Wild waves at Depoe Bay
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“The biggest problem we face is visibility, as I
explained. We have also noticed that the whales stay further from shore
in the winter making a more straight shot south rather than following
the contours of the coast. The same number of whales is going by on their
regular trek, but we have noticed our sightings are directly connected
to weather and visibility. Even without the stormy seas we have problems
on heavy overcast days.
This year, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
and the National Weather Service are predicting a cooler, wetter winter
than usual for the northwest, which seems to point to more storms for
the season. A lot of interesting things can be predicted for the Oregon
coast, given that.
|Whale showing its tail (photo courtesy Whale
said whale watching isn’t one of them. There’s no way to predict
what more storms will or won’t do for whale numbers. But he pointed
out that once winter storms are done, there are often some pretty nice
days, and that has its applications for those who love the great beasts
as well as those who simply love nice days on the beach. It doesn’t
work like clockwork, but chances are decent.
Mostly, he said, spend more than a day out there to increase
your chances of spotting whales and encountering different conditions.
“We have noticed in the past that many of the
early storms move over us very fast,” Grover said. “One day
the storm will take whale sighting counts down to nothing, but the next
day will be a great day. Try to plan your trip for two or three days to
Planning your trip to the coast to watch whales with perfect weather would
be impossible, but don't forget storm watching along the coast is truly
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