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Whale Numbers Should Soon Pick Up on Oregon Coast, Into Washington Coast

Published 11/18/21 at 4:24 AM PST
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Whale Numbers Should Soon Pick Up on Oregon Coast, Into Washington Coast

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(Oregon Coast) – From Brookings on the south Oregon coast up into the Washington coast, you should start to see a pickup in whale spotting action very soon. At least the gray whale sightings should begin accelerating. (Photo courtesy Oregon State Parks)

Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) sent out a whale of a message this week:

“Gray whales will soon be making their migration south from Alaska to Mexico. The peak time to see these interesting animals along the Oregon coast is during the winter holidays. Many state parks make good spots for whale watching.”

The social media groups for whale watching along the Oregon coast have been quiet lately, but then the waves have been a bit too active to make seeing them easy. However, there was an exciting run of “resident” whales seen at Depoe Bay around the last two days of October.

Just because it's raucous out there at sea, it doesn't mean our cetacean friends aren't around. Wait for conditions to calm down and you should start spotting them.

With winter migration starting up in December, then peaking near the end of the month, you may start seeing the numbers increasing soon. ODFW said they'll be migrating south to breeding and calving grounds then.

“Peak times to view them are late December through late March to early April,” ODFW said. “In addition to migratory animals, there are approximately 200 resident gray whales that live nearly year-round off Oregon.”

That peak migration in December will also mean another round of Whale Watch Week during the Christmas vacation week. Exactly what Oregon officials have in mind for this one is yet unclear, given the lingering COVID pandemic.

According to Oregon State Parks and Recreation Department (OPRD), some 18,000 gray whales live in the Eastern North Pacific region, essentially the west coast of the continent. On top of that, about 200 gray whales live nearly year-round off the Oregon and Washington coastline, from Brookings to the Olympic Peninsula.

Whale breaching near Port Orford (photo courtesy Dave Foley)

If you want to increase your chances of seeing whales, resident or otherwise, the Depoe Bay area tends to yield the highest numbers, as whales simply love the underwater buffet in the area. Unfortunately, the Whale Watch Center there is closed for now, so you'll be left to your own devices.

Whale watch tours are your best option whatever time of year, although in winter these trips can be spotty because of inclement conditions. There are some that operate out of Depoe Bay and Newport with regularity, and one out of Port Orford on the south coast. They really do produce results as heading out to sea a ways gets you much closer.

If you're going to head out to the beaches and look for them, ODFW offered the following advice:

“Look for whales as they surface to blow a spout of 6-12 feet high, depending on the sex. Gray whales usually surface to breathe 3-5 times before making a deep feeding dive when you can spot their tail flukes. The best time to view whales are on calm days when you won't confuse whale spouts with whitecaps. While you can see whale spouts with the naked eye, use binoculars for the best viewing.”

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Photos below courtesy OPRD

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