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Near Record Season for Oregon Coast Whale Sightings Continues

Published 10/07/2016 at 6:51 AM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Some are calling it a record season for whale watching

(Depoe Bay, Oregon) – Some are calling it a record season for whale watching on the central Oregon coast, with so many gray whales spotted and encountered on the tours and on the shoreline that it's off the charts for some who are keeping track. Meanwhile, on the north Oregon coast, in the Astoria area, the Humpback whales are still putting on a show.

The fun looks like it will continue through the end of October and into the beginning of November, say experts.

The big concentration is in the Depoe Bay area. It's there that some witnesses say it's not uncommon to encounter five or six whales in a two-hour period – and that's just from shore. Whale watch tour boats are getting an even bigger eyeful. But whale tours in the Newport area are also seeing great numbers, and the Yachats area is having quite a few encounters as well.

Luke Parsons is park ranger with Oregon State Parks and Recreation Department (OPRD) and the spokesman for the Whale Watch Center in Depoe Bay. He said it's a combination of great summer weather conditions and something about the food sources in the area.

“It's been a really, really good summer for whale watching,” Parsons said. “We suspect ocean conditions have been really good for food for these animals. And at the same time we've had a really nice summer. Haven't had too many extremely windy days, and that's provided lots of excellent viewing in the area.”

Right now is still technically the “second summer” on the Oregon coast, normally providing the warmest time of the year through mid October. While it's been plenty windy and soggy lately, better weather is expected to return.

Pleasant conditions not only make it easier for the whales to be seen, but wilder waves can keep them from coming in close.

“Winds and waves create a challenge to see them,” Parsons said. “It's hard to see a whale behind a 20-foot wave.”

Parsons said the Whale Watch Center has reported about 10 to 20 whale sightings a day. Others, including some followers on the Oregon Coast Beach Connection Facebook page have said they've encountered more.

The best part is it's expected to continue. Parsons said the great numbers of gray whales should be around even into early November. That's when the “resident” whales start to join the migration south (which then brings in more whales in mid December through late January).

Parsons said the majority are being seen from about Otter Rock up to Gleneden Beach (just north of Newport to just south of Lincoln City). That's where the rocky terrain allows the kelp forests to live, and that's where the whales' favorite food – mycid shrimp – hide out.

The biggest hotspots for sighting them will be places like Rocky Creek, Otter Crest Loop, Boiler Bay and the seawall at Depoe Bay. But Parsons said great numbers are being reported by the whale tours out of Newport and by the Cape Perpetua Visitor Center just south of Yachats.

Even Lincoln City is seeing a fair amount, but they can't get in very close like they do in those rockier areas.

Parsons said no one really knows exactly what is creating ideal conditions for the whales' food sources. But since that entire area around Depoe Bay is part of a marine reserve, it's a section that is normally teeming with all kinds of life.

Up in the Astoria area, the reports of the Humpbacks are quite dramatic. These are being seen up the Columbia River for the second year in a row now. Although last year there were more of them and they sometimes loitered around Cannon Beach.

Tiffany Boothe of the Seaside Aquarium said the Humpbacks are getting seen at least two or three times a day, with as many as six or so being reported.

These probably won't stick around as long the grays on the central coast, however.

“Those guys are chasing schools of bait fish, like anchovies, herring and so on,” Parsons said. “They're following them up the Columbia and putting on quite a show.”

Boothe said they've been primarily seen in about three places in Astoria: by the Cannery Pier Hotel, the Hammond marina and along the bayfront just shy of the bridge. Where to stay for this - Where to eat - Map and Virtual Tour


Photos below of Humpbacks in Astoria, courtesy Tiffany Boothe of Seaside Aquarium



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