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.
Run of Killer Whales Coming Soon to Central
|Killer whales off Florence's cliffs (photo Tiffany Boothe, Seaside
(Depoe Bay, Oregon) - It’s been happening for years
on the Oregon coast, and yet it still remains a bit of a seasonal secret.
Each year, around April 15 or so, killer whales approach
the area and patrol the central coast waters, looking for baby gray whales
and maybe a few sea lions or seals to munch on. They are rarely seen in
these waters, except at this time of year. And when it does happen, it’s
in the Depoe Bay and Newport areas, but it’s often seen from Cascade
Head all the way down to Florence.
The killer whales are what are known as “transient”
whales, meaning officials don’t know where they come from. They’re
also more predatory, living off seals and baby gray whales.
|Photo Tiffany Boothe, Seaside Aquarium
Morris Grover, with the Whale Watch Center in Depoe Bay,
says these are smaller and more shark-like in appearance than what are
nicknamed the “friendly” whales, which visit here from the
San Juan Islands and live on salmon.
“We see them in our waters every spring, usually
arriving about April 15,” Grover said. “But some have already
been spotted during the previous whale watch week. They are here to intercept
the baby gray whales, as that is the time they usually arrive along the
coast. They are usually here for a few weeks.”
In 2006, the killer whales lingered until the middle of
“That is a very long time for them, but it was obviously supported
by local food for them,” Grover said. “We watched a pod of
five around Depoe Bay and actually filmed them taking what we believed
to be a seal in the south end of the bay. Seals and sea lions are fast
in the water and orcas have to burn up a lot of energy to catch them.
After all that work, only one seal will feed one orca. When they kill
a baby gray whale, the whole pod can eat for a week.”
|Sea lions lounging without fear near Orcas cruising around (photo
Tiffany Boothe, Seaside Aquarium)
Grover said they sometimes can be seen coming into Yaquina
Bay in Newport when they can’t find baby whales, attracted by the
proliferation of seals and sea lions in the bay. Some years, they have
also been known to linger at the edges of the bay’s jetties. One
sighting in recent years was of a killer whale chasing a seal all the
way through Yaquina Bay, almost as far east as Toledo.
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“It’s all food related,” Grover said.
“They come up here all the time. Basically, they will take the easiest
Grover said they are sometimes seen apparently “playing”
with their food by tossing it back and forth, or slapping it with their
tails. This unique behavior has to do with teaching their young how to
To catch sight of these killer whales, just like spotting
any whale, Grover suggests patience, and head to a high vantage point.
The Newport area has many of these, such as the lighthouse at Yaquina
Bay, the Yaquina Head area, Don Davis Memorial Park in Nye Beach, and
nearby at Cape Foulweather. The headquarters for the Whale Watch Spoken
Here program is in Depoe Bay, at the seawall, and another good spot for
seeing them as well.
|Cape Foulweather, a favorite whale watching spot
One theory about why the killer whales have been more
frequent in these waters in recent decades is that the sardine population
has recently begun to recover from over fishing in the 30’s.
Grover said sardines come up through this region in what
are nicknamed “bait balls,” where their numbers are so condensed
they form a wall of fish, partially out of an instinct to protect their
young. Staff at the Whale Watch Center in Depoe Bay can see them at times:
they appear as a large, dark mass in the ocean.
Orcas here have been seen swimming around them with great
frequency, forcing them to coalesce together even closer. Then, the whales
will simply start to swim through them with their mouths open, sucking
down this wall of fish in a kind of underwater all-you-can-eat buffet.
|Gray whale and its tail on the central coast (photo Whale Watch
Grover emphasized that even once the Whale Watch Week is
over – which is happening now until March 29 - there are still gray
whales aplenty to be spotted, along with the coveted killer whale sightings.
Gray whales are still migrating through here in great numbers until June.
Then, the “summer” whales begin to show up, which tend to
loiter on the central coast in large numbers for the summer before migrating
again, because of the abundant food supply here. These really put on a
show by coming quite close to shore.
“If you sit there for only five minutes and you spot
a whale, then you’ve won the lottery,” Grover said. “It’s
not likely. If you sit there for a half hour, it’s possible you’ll
see one. If you sit for an hour, you’ll probably see one.”
In late May of 2006, Tiffany Boothe of the Seaside Aquarium photographed
a pod of killer whales near the Sea Lion Caves. That event was a few days
after a much publicized sighting of the same pod by staff at Sea Lion
|Yaquina Bay: every once in a while the Orcas wander into the bay
What staff there noted was that the orcas were swimming
around the sea lions, but they weren’t disturbed by the presence
of their usual predators. Grover thinks this was because either the whales
were full and were not interested in the swimming sea lions, or they were
trying to fool them into complacency so they could make a meal of them
Boothe also noted the sea lions didn’t seem to be
scared by the killer whales swimming around them.
For more information on whale watching, contact the
Whale Watch Center at (541) 765-3407.
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over 25 vacation rental homes to choose from. A breathtaking collection
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888-777-4047. 503-436-2241. 2864 Pacific Street. Cannon Beach, Oregon.
Cape Property Services.
Dozens of homes in that dreamy,
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here for video of Dec. storm aftermath
Coast Best of Awards for the Year And the winners
are: best of Oregon coast restaurants, lodgings, science, odd events
in nature and stunning moments for 2007
Transformations of Oregon Coast Beaches Seasons change
and so do beaches, revealing different sides and a variety of eye-popping
Cool Ideas for Oregon Coast Romance Be it the season
of Valentine's or be it any time of the year, Oregon's coastline has
essentially cornered the market for cuddle-inducing possibilities and
gushy activities for the hand-holding set
or Night Mysteries and Merriment on Oregon Coast It's
more than just nightlife that comes to life, but the beaches offer major
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