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Six Stunning Facts About Oregon Coast Spring: Whales, Best Photos, Lowest Tides, More

Published 04/04/21 at 6:55 AM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Six Stunning Facts About Oregon Coast in Spring: Whales, Best Photos, More

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(Oregon Coast) – There’s so much more going on during spring along this coastline than most ever know about. Lucky for you, April and May are still among the lowest density months for travelers here, and that leaves these beaches even more to yourselves for things like real Japanese glass floats, watery and phytoplankton pyrotechnics, glowing sands, and more.

Also, Oregon coast hotels and rentals are at lower prices as well.

Coast At Its Most Photogenic

A little known fact about spring on the coast, especially April, is that this season can yield the best photographs of the whole year. This can begin in late March, though it usually really kicks into high gear in April and May. (Above: Arch Cape in April. You don't normally get stunning pastels like this any other time of year)

In spring, conditions are ripe for some of the most stunning sunsets and sky conditions during daylight. You'll find big, fat puffy clouds and quickly-rotating weather patterns that can create some remarkable colors and sights you may not find any other season. Colors can be more intense and the shapes in the sky downright jaw-dropping.

Oceanside in June

It has to do with denser, wetter air and the way some clouds affect lighting. Many will argue fall with its Second Summer is the best for photos, and then it becomes a matter of taste, really. Or maybe they just haven’t experienced this.

Whales, Whales, Whales

Orcas rocketing through the waters, photo courtesy Edith Hitchings

To paraphrase that Motley Crue song, there will still be plenty of whales...whales...whales in spring.

Late March is generally the peak migration as they wander past, but fairly large numbers of gray whales continue for a good month before they mostly taper off in May. However, right about now – in April – is when you start to see the Killer Whales wandering through, looking to make dinner out of the baby gray whales in tow. They keep following the grays up and down the Oregon coast, appearing and disappearing at random, along any area from Brookings up into the Washington coast.

However, there are generally more of them on the central coast (Lincoln City to Yachats) because there are more grays meandering around. Normally, the Whale Watch Center in Depoe Bay would be keeping track of these sightings, but it’s currently not operational because of COVID restrictions. So unfortunately we don’t know what’s really happening in terms of numbers now.

Real Glass Floats

Another little known secret is that actual Japanese glass floats – now quite rare – will still show up periodically after the storms of February and March. However, you have to know what to look for along the beaches and the right conditions. It’s quite a skill.

This past year has been a doozy for wave action, so it’s a good idea to periodically scour the beachgrass farther up the beaches. Many spots on the south coast which are more remote are where these things are left unpicked, such as around Ophir, Charleston or Arizona Beach.

Lowest Tides

Port Orford and Cape Blanco, courtesy Oregon State Parks

Also fun to look for: the year’s lowest tides can happen in May through June, with the latter having a tendency to be the lowest. This allows greater exploration of tidepools and other sights not always visible.

For instance, in Lincoln City, there’s a minus low tide on May 25, 29 and 30 all around minus one foot. There’s lots of negative tides in June and some over minus one foot later in the month.

Crazed Weather Interludes

Shore Acres, courtesy Oregon's Adventure Coast

March and April bring some truly unpredictable weather, often switching back and forth abruptly between sunny and squalls within the same day, sometimes within a half hour. You get an interesting mix of increasingly nice days, with occasional winter-like storms still possible.

Real winter-like storms with howling winds are still possible through April, and even some beach warnings. Generally, however, the southern coast – especially closer to Gold Beach – tends to calm down sooner.

This means big wave situations could still be seen in areas like Coos Bay’s Shore Acres or Yachats.

Those storms create some wild possibilities, especially when paired with the larger blooms of phytoplankton.

Phytoplankton Magic

Those tiny little plant-like creatures at the bottom of the food chain in the ocean can put on a big show. In spring, there are larger blooms of phytoplankton – which also are largely the basis for the sea foam you see on any given day at the beach.

If you’ve got a sizable storm going, sort of “enclosed” places like the Devil’s Churn near Yachats or the steep cove walls of Otter Point on the south coast could result in wild, weird sights, like thick blobs of foam flying upwards. It looks like snow going the wrong direction, caused by giant masses of the stuff getting shoved inland by winds forcing them into a tighter place and then creating kind of an updraft upwards.

Finding a lot of phytoplankton (foam) on beaches and in the waves is also a good sign you could see glowing sand at night. That is caused by a type of phytoplankton called dinoflagellates which are bioluminescent.

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