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Oregon Coast Whale Watch Packed with Action, Starting March 28

Published 03/21/23 at 12:10 AM
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

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(Oregon Coast) - Gear up and get ready to shout that famous line from Star Trek IV: “There be whales here.” (Photo OPRD)

Except that “here” is along the entire length of the Oregon coast and not some alien vessel. Spring Whale Watch Week gets underway next week from Tuesday, March 28 through Sunday, April 2, coinciding with what is part of the whales' peak migration northward. In winter, the gray whales sauntered en masse down to the birthing waters of Baja, Mexico, and are now returning home to colder waters.

Trained volunteers will be at 17 high vantage points to help you spot the great cetaceans, often with calves in tow. Volunteers will be there from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. daily. It's put on twice-yearly by Oregon State Parks and Recreation Department (OPRD).

Oregon Coast Whale Watch Packed with Action, Starting March 28
(Photo Oregon Coast Beach Connection)

OPRD has numerous designated whale watching locations which offer the best chances of seeing them because this is where the whales tend to stay close and because of their high elevation.

The number of volunteer sites has shrunk since the late 2010s, from about 24 to the current 17.

On the north Oregon coast, you'll find them at Fort Stevens State Park at the Peter Iredale Shipwreck, Neahkahnie Mountain Overlook at Manzanita and Cape Meares Lighthouse near Oceanside.


Photo OPRD

On the central Oregon coast, Boiler Bay State Scenic Viewpoint, Whale Watching Center, Rocky Creek State Scenic Viewpoint and Cape Foulweather are all in and around Depoe Bay. In Newport, there are Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area and Yaquina Bay Lighthouse. Farther south there are Yachats State Recreation Area, Cape Perpetua Turnout just south of Yachats and the Heceta Head Lighthouse near Florence.

Along the south coast, they are at Umpqua Lighthouse near Reedsport, Shore Acres State Park near Coos Bay, Face Rock Scenic Viewpoint at Bandon, Ophir Wayside just south of the little village of Ophir in Curry County, and Brookings' Harris Beach State Park.

According to Park Ranger Peter McBride, weather is better this time of year for visitors. Whales are typically out about a mile or so, which takes concentration to find – but at least conditions can be better than winter's event.

Volunteers will also help you spot behaviors like spyhopping, or the dives that indicate they're heading deeper for food.

These whales are chomping on the copious mysid shrimp that hide in the huge number of kelp forests offshore. Whale experts on the Oregon coast know this because the residents tend to come in closer to shore, and they stick to predictable feeding areas. They also engage in a different kind of diving pattern: the whale's fluke comes up out of the water.

This is a signal that they're heading straight down to the bottom.

There are roughly 18,000 gray whales living along the Pacific Ocean of the western continent, and thousands of them wander back and forth during migrations. Some 200 of the total population like to linger in some areas longer, thus getting dubbed “resident whales” for that area.

On the central coast – around Depoe Bay to Yachats – there's a couple dozen that regularly hang out in the region, some moving on at various points then getting replaced by others. It's as if they're taking shifts living in the region.

Gray whales and their babies aren't the only thing you'll get to spot. Humpback whales are sometimes in the mix, and the run of plenty of orcas often starts about now, gaining speed in April.

The thinking used to be that orcas were after the baby gray whales – and spotting them hunt down a calf is possible. However, Canadian killer whale researcher Josh McInnes and his colleagues – which have documented orcas off the Northwest coast in detail – believe the run of orcas here has more to do with the seal pupping season, which starts in April.

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. Go to https://visittheoregoncoast.com/beach-safety/ for a list of safety tips.

For more information about coast parks and campgrounds, visit www.oregonstateparks.or.

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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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