Huge Number of Whale Sightings on Oregon Coast Now; Rarities Too

Published 09/24/2015 at 4:22 PM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

(Oregon Coast) – To quote Scotty in the Star Trek 4: The Voyage Home movie: “Thar be whales in here.” Or, you could paraphrase the old Motley Crue song with “whales, whales, whales.” (Above: a Humpback in the Columbia River this week, by Tiffany Boothe, Seaside Aquarium).

All photos by Boothe.

Whatever the cultural gag, whales are in abundance all up and down the Oregon coast, and showing up in some unexpected places. On the central coast, whale watching tours are reporting non-stop encounters with gray whales. But on the north Oregon coast, the rarely-seen-from-shore Humpback whales have been making daily appearances close to the beaches, and even eight miles up one river.

It also means right now is a great time to hit the coastline to look for them. It's a perfect storm for whale watching: with calm waters brought on by the coast's “Second Summer,” and warmer waters providing more food for the whales.

Tiffany Boothe of Seaside Aquarium snapped even more this week, with the Humpbacks close to Haystack Rock in Cannon Beach and multiple photographic encounters along the Columbia River at Astoria.

The Humpbacks started showing up in mid-August, following lots of baitfish in the area. Some of the most dramatic shots showed them weaving in and out of the paths of boats on the Columbia.

Meanwhile, Carrie Newell and her Whale Eco Excursions tours out of Depoe Bay have logged a few stunning close encounters with so-called “resident” gray whales, along with simply copious sightings.

Boothe said the Humpbacks are being seen often from Manzanita up into the Columbia River – more than thirty miles of shoreline.

“We spotted them yesterday feeding up by the Megler Bridge,” Boothe said. “They have also been spotted daily off of Haystack Rock in Cannon Beach and off of Neakannie Mountain.”

Boothe noted some were seen in the Warrenton and Hammond area last year about this time, but nothing like the frequency that's currently happening. Most locals in Astoria are saying they've never seen the whales up so far into the river.

NOAA scientists say the cause of all these rare delights on the north coast is that the ocean in the area is warmer than usual, and that's drawing in more baitfish. In fact, it's an enormous amount of baitfish. This, in turn, draws in the Humpback whales and keeps them here.

Sightings have often included many Humpbacks together, including numerous reports of two babies.

It's unclear whether the cause of the warmer waters is an effect of the “blob” (an area of warmer water in the Pacific Ocean that's thought to be driving the current drought), of a growing El Nino situation or simply that it's been a long, warm summer. It could be all of them or a combination, but NOAA said waters are warmer than usual right now.

One of the biggest factors for being able to see whales in great abundance is a calm ocean, which is typical this time of year, as September and early October are when the Oregon coast is at its warmest.

In Depoe Bay, Newell's blog and Facebook page has been crammed full of amazing moments all summer long.

On her boat trips, she takes her dog Kida, who is a kind of legend these days, known for barking excitedly at whales as they come close. (You can see plenty of video and stills of this amazing interaction here).

On Wednesday she wrote:

“I had the best whale experience of my life the other day. A young whale named Vader came up to the boat and for an hour played right next to and under the boat. My dog, Kida, and Vader almost touched noses. He was so close I could count the hairs on his head and see his eye looking right at me.”

Several whale tours operate out of Depoe Bay and Newport. State officials say if you want to spot whales, find a high vantage point and bring your binoculars and your patience. Scan the ocean with your eyes for a whale spout, which will give you a clue where to keep looking.

In spring, many Orcas were spotted along the central Oregon coast as well, which also included babies. More of Boothe's Humpback photos of Cannon Beach and the Columbia River below:




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