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Winter Whale Watch Week 2023 - Not Just Grays on Oregon Coast

Published 12/11/23 at 6:35 p.m.
y Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Winter Whale Watch Week 2023 - Not Just Grays on Oregon Coast

(Oregon Coast) – Finally back in full form after the pandemic, Winter Whale Watch Week returns to the Oregon coast from Wednesday, December 27 through December 31, showcasing the best of cetacean wonders across the region. Some 15 sites along the coastline will host volunteers who help the public catch sight of the great watery beasts on their winter migration. (Above: a gray whale and her calf spouting, courtesy OSU)

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Thousands of gray whales saunter past the Oregon coast from about late November through early January, migrating southward towards the birthing waters of Mexico, where calves are born and raised for a little while before they head north again in the early spring. More of the gray whales tend to wander through the last week of December, making for the peak migration and the Winter Whale Watch Week.

This results in an estimated 18,000 grays off the west coast, about 14,000 of which went past Oregon waters last year, according to estimates by the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration.

See the latest in weather reports along this coast and the Washington coast for whale watching conditions. Washington Coast Weather - Oregon Coast Weather

According to Oregon State Parks and Recreation Department (OPRD), last year's winter watch tallied over 200 sightings.

“251 whales spotted, 6,830 visitor contacts and 651 volunteer hours,” said OPRD spokesman Stephanie Knowles.

At each of the visitor spots, volunteers are hanging out from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. each day to point out the telltale signs of a whale. OPRD's Whale Watch Weeks now go back over 40 years.

Courtesy OSU

This time the number of whale spots are a bit different and they're whittled down in number from previous years. Most noticeably there are less on the southern Oregon coast and a couple no longer there from the central coast.

On the south coast, you'll find them at Reedsport's Umpqua Lighthouse, Coos Bay's Shore Acres State Park, Face Rock Scenic Viewpoint in Bandon and Brookings' Harris Beach State Park.

On the central coast, you'll find them at Heceta Head Lightouse, Cape Perpetua Turnout and the Yachats State Recreation Area in and around Yachats. There's only one this time at Newport: Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area. In the Depoe Bay area, there's Boiler Bay State Scenic Viewpoint, The Whale Watching Center, Rocky Creek State Scenic Viewpoint and towering Cape Foulweather.

See the Best of Oregon Coast Lodging for Whale Watching, Whale Watch Week

There's a new one on the north coast at Fort Stevens State Park (Peter Iredale Shipwreck), and the usual Neahkahnie Mountain Overlook by Manzanita and Oceanside's Cape Meares Lighthouse.

It's worth noting that right now you can see more of the Iredale shipwreck than usual [More of N. Oregon Coast's Wreck of Peter Iredale Showing Than Ever Before], and that Cape Meares is more easily accessed from the north as the northern tip of the Three Capes Loop road has reopened after a ten-year shutdown [Cape Meares Loop Rd. Reopens, N. Oregon Coast's Three Capes is 'Loop' Again].

You can find the full map of whale watch spots here.

Many years, other types of whales can get seen than just grays. The Whale Watching Center has in the past reported some interesting numbers of humpback whales in the mix (in 2012 they estimated as many as 1,000 humpbacks might be wandering off the coastline). Orcas are also occasionally in this mix as well, and indeed there have been a couple of killer whale sightings off the Oregon coast in late November.

You can also keep an eye on Oregon coast whale activity through a handful of Facebook groups, including the Oregon Coast Killer Whale Monitoring Group, Oregon Coast Whale Watchers, Clatsop & Pacific County Whale Sightings, and the Port Orford And PNW Whale Watchers. These sometimes can give you a clue to whale sighting hotspots in real time.

“All Whale Watch Week visitors are encouraged to dress for the weather, to bring binoculars and to follow beach safety guidelines such as remaining out of fenced areas, knowing the tide schedule and keeping an eye on the surf at all times,” said OPRD.

Whale spotting is more easily done from higher vantage points than from flat beaches.

Depoe Bay's Whale Watching Center will be open 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on that Wednesday through Saturday.

Oregon Coast Hotels for this event - South Coast Hotels - Where to eat - Maps - Virtual Tours


Courtesy OPRD from summer 2023: Mother and Calf Swim Away


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Andre' GW Hagestedt is editor, owner and primary photographer / videographer of Oregon Coast Beach Connection, an online publication that sees over 1 million pageviews per month. He is also author of several books about the coast.

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