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Whales Still Abound on Oregon Coast, Even If No One Watches

Published 12/16/20 at 4:55 PM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Whales Still Abound on Oregon Coast, Even If No One Watches

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(Oregon Coast) – Right about now, during normal years, Oregon officials would be touting the myriad of fun ways that whales could be entertaining along the Oregon coast. Oregon Parks and Recreation Department (OPRD) would be building excitement in the media over the Winter Whale Watch Week held every end-of-year, and organizations like Oregon Coast Beach Connection would already be going over some of the numbers of whale sightings from OPRD’s Whale Watching Center in Depoe Bay.

Not in a pandemic year like this one, of course. The Whale Watching Center has been shut down since early this year and the spring whale watch week never happened. Neither will the winter one.

Yet officials at Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) say whale watching continues at the moment, it’s just a “DIY adventure,” as they put it. The numbers are still great, even if no one is officially doing the counting. Typically this time of year, several whales are seen an hour.

“While there won’t be a visit to the Depoe Bay Whale Watching Center or with a volunteer from the Watching Spoken Here program (due to the Coronavirus), you can still go on your own,” ODFW said in a release.

Every year, some 20,000 gray whales meander past the Oregon coastline as well as the Washington coast, with the peak migrations in March and in December. They’re still doing it, and people are still able to see them – there are simply no volunteer guides to help them.

Even the Facebook groups of whale watchers have been quiet – no one is reporting any significant sightings as of late. Even through summer these posts were sporadic. Periodically, a striking post appears on Instagram these days, but that’s about as much publicity as the whales get.

However, if you’re out on the coastline this time of year, don’t forget to take some time out to look for them. Those social media bits and pieces are proof they’re still out there migrating and spy-hopping and what not.

“The Oregon coast is the wintering area for a small number of gray whales,” ODFW said. “When the surf is not too large, viewers watching from the bluffs overlooking the shore can spot these animals along rocky shorelines. Often the whales will be in shallow water feeding on mycid shrimp and other small crustaceans.”

Patience and a good high spot are the two most important things you’ll need to spot whales along these shorelines. ODFW said they only surface briefly to breathe. It’s then that you can pinpoint them, and from there you know to keep an eye on a general area and direction. They’ll pop up again in another minute or less.

Along the southern Oregon coast, ODFW had a few suggestions and words of caution.

“Good places to see them are the bluffs along Cape Arago, near Charleston and bluffs at Coquille Point, near Bandon,” ODFW said. “Viewers need to be very careful not to go too close to the edge of the cliffs in these areas because soils there can be very slippery. Falling from one of these overlooks can be life threatening.”

One of the best areas along the entire coastline is the Depoe Bay area, which is chock full of whales that like to hang out year-round. They’re often joined by others during the peak migrations.

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“In addition to migratory animals, there are approximately 200 resident gray whales that live nearly year-round off Oregon,” ODFW said. “Gray whales, humpbacks, orcas, and sperm whales can all be seen off the coast.”

Almost any good high spot will do, however. The higher parts of Cape Perpetua (Yachats) closer to shore are excellent, Ecola State Park at Cannon Beach, Cape Blanco down south, Neahkanie Overlooks (Manzanita), high vantage points of Lincoln City, high cliff spots of Newport and many more. See more of these places below

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