Incredible Close Encounter with Orcas on Central Oregon Coast
(Depoe Bay, Oregon) - The day began a little on the unusual side for one whale watch tour boat on the central Oregon coast. Actually two odd things appeared – by way of not being there, that is. And then came one of the more spectacular Killer Whale encounters on the Oregon coast in recent memory. (Photos by Ruth of Portland, aboard the Whale's Tail).
This past Tuesday turned out to be an incredible Orca experience that was not only documented in deep detail, but this little pod had two babies with them.
Orcas always show up this time of year – a rather distinctive group of them that are known as transients, as no one knows where they come from. They are typified by a slightly more pointed snout and come to this area to chase baby gray whales for food.
They popped up in mid March, even getting photographed later in the month by Whale Spoken Here volunteers. (See Killer Whales Play and Pose for Pictures Off Central Oregon Coast)
Whale's Tail Whale Watching Tours out of Depoe Bay spotted the great beasts about 10 a.m. It was the second tour that morning for captain and owner Gary Stephenson, who was already lamenting the fact no gray whales were seen on the first run.
On that second run, Stephenson noticed something else missing, something that's normally on the big orange buoy just a mile offshore from Depoe Bay.
“I can almost always show people some sea lions resting on that buoy, but not this time,” Stephenson said. “I noticed there were no sea lions on the buoy, and I said that's probably a sign there are Orcas around. And sure enough.”
That, plus the lack of gray whales the second time, made him believe there were Orcas present. Sea lions and gray whales know when Killer Whales are around and they disappear.
As the tour boat got near North Point (a rather hidden cliff access at the northern tip of Depoe Bay), Stephenson and his customer spotted six Orcas, gliding through about 80 feet of water in that area. Two of them were clearly juveniles They didn't breach or anything jaw-dropping like that: just bobbed in and out of the water occasionally.
“Especially the smaller ones would come out of the water,” Stephenson said.
The little pod was headed south, so Stephenson's boat followed.
“We followed them all the way to Devil's Punchbowl,” Stephenson said. “They were going about five, six miles an hour, just kind'a cruising along. On the first trip out we didn't see any gray whales. Then on the second trip we saw the Orcas. By the third trip, there were gray whales out again.”
The Orcas moved pretty close in to Devil's Punchbowl, and at that point Stephenson turned around, not wanting to follow them further in what is about 30 feet of water in that rather raucous area.
Gray whales are still spotted aplenty this time of year, but it's impossible to say if your chances of seeing Killer Whales remains decent. They tend to be a rather rare sight. If you want to try and spot them, it's best to first look for gray whales – and bring a binoculars and lots of patience. Then scan the horizon for any sign of a whale's blowhole shooting off water.
Officials suggest finding a calm day as big waves can act like trenches and hide them. Then, find a high viewpoint, such as Neahkahnie Mountain near Manzanita, Cape Foulweather near Depoe Bay, Ecola State Park at Cannon Beach or the Cape Perpetua Visitors Center near Yachats – to name a few.
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