180 miles of Oregon coast travel: Astoria, Seaside, Cannon Beach, Manzanita,
Nehalem, Wheeler, Rockaway, Garibaldi, Tillamook, Oceanside, Pacific City,
Lincoln City, Depoe Bay, Newport, Wadport, Yachats & Florence.
Central Oregon Coast Expecting Killer Whales
Photos by Tiffany Boothe, Seaside Aquarium
|Orca near Florence, part of a series of stunning photos taken by
Tiffany Boothe in May, 2006
(Newport, Oregon) – It’s been happening for
years on the Oregon coast, but no one has thought to say much about it
Each year, around April 15 or so, a run of killer whales
approaches the area and patrols the central coast waters, looking for
baby gray whales and maybe a few sea lions or seals to munch on. Usually,
it’s in the Depoe Bay and Newport areas, but it’s often seen
from Cascade Head all the way down to Florence.
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.
Morris Grover, with the Whale
Watch Spoken Here program, 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.
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.”
Last year, the killer whales lingered until the middle
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“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.”
Grover said they can sometimes 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.
|Sea Lions basking in the sun near Sea Lion
Caves, undisturbed by the presence of their usual predators
“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.
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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.
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. It appears
to employees of the Whale Watch Spoke Here center in Depoe Bay 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.
Grover emphasized that even though the Whale Watch Week
is over, 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 great food supply
here. These really put on a show by coming quite close to shore.
|Cape Foulweather, a favorite whale watching spot
“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.”
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In late May of last year, 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 Caves.
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 Spoke Here program
at (541) 765-3407.
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City Vacation Homes
There’s something for everyone
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are the remnants of a forest apparently 80,000 years old, found at Hug
or Night Mysteries and Merriment on Oregon Coast It's
more than just nightlife that comes to life, but the beaches offer major
Wines and Wine Bars on the Oregon Coast Wine shops
and wine bars are a growing part of coastal tourism
coast mileage chart & map
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BeachConnection.net's 1,000 pages
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Where the Columbia
meets the Pacific, Land of Lewis & Clark and loads of
atmosphere & history
Tillamook Head, family fun & broad, sandy beaches
lighthouse, upscale yet earthy, a huge monolith, fine eateries
& an art mecca
beaches, Nehalem and Wheeler's quirky beauty; laid back Rockaway
Barview, Bay City, Tillamook & an oceanfront ghost town
secret of the coast: Cape Meares, a lighthouse, Oceanside,
Netarts and Pacific City
A spouting horn
downtown, freaky hidden cliffs and whales, whales, whales
Time-tripping Nye Beach, a bustling
bayfront, marine science-central and two lighthouses
Constantly dramatic wave action, a mix
of the rugged & upscale
A lighthouse, ancient bayfront and miles
and miles of fluffy dunes