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Babies, Breaches, Spyhops Spotted at Oregon Coast Whale Watch Week


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Secrets of the Season

Babies, Breaches, Spyhops Spotted at Oregon Coast Whale Watch Week

Whale Watch spot near Manzanita

(Depoe Bay, Oregon) – Last Saturday was the wrap-up of the Oregon coast Whale Watch Week, and it was a doozy, say organizers.

The weeklong events are held on the entire length of the Oregon coast, and put on three times a year by the Oregon State Parks and Recreation Department, through a program called Whale Watch Spoken Here. For just a little over a week, for about three hours a day, volunteers stand at designated high points along the coastline and help tourists to the area spot the whales as they migrate one direction or the other.

In this case, the gray whales were heading north to Alaska’s waters.

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Morris Grover, spokesman and leader of the program, said the weather cooperated about half the time, but the whales were truly the stars of the show. “It was a great whale watch week,” Grover said. “Not all stations have reported in, but so far we have a whale count of 2,697 and a people count on 15,518. That is an increase on the whale count and a few hundred lower on the people count from last year.”

Morris Grover scans for whales in Newport, March 25

Grover said two days of rain and other kinds of bad weather, including a nasty storm that rolled in on the first Saturday, hindered some of the watching. But the rest of the week was quite good for spotting the giant cetaceans. “Conditions were so good that we had some sites reporting 70, 76, 80 and 152 whales in the three-hour watch time,” Grover said.

oregon coast lighthouses on dvdGrover spoke to BeachConnection.net on Sunday, March 25, a day of pristine, blue skies and even warm conditions at times. He noted it was interesting how the waves were fairly calm that day, since normally storms like the one the previous night create residual wave action the following day. Those waves are often sizable, and not conducive to spotting whales. Grover said whales can be out there in full force, doing all kinds of spectacular things, and the weather can be perfect – but if the swells are big enough, you won’t be able to spot them.

Grover said volunteers at the Sea Lion Caves, near Florence, spotted 76 whales during the three-hour watch period. The watching was so good they continued watching for a few more hours and ended up spotting 144 of the great beasts.

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“A lot of the whales were running about three miles off shore and that is normal,” Grover said. “But we were watching many of them as close as a half mile. An interesting change on the last two days: the whales were seen much closer - 30 feet to 30 yards off shore. And that report came in from locations all along the coast.”

Near Sea Lion Caves, where 144 whales were spotted in a few hours

The reasons for that aren’t fully understood, but Grover and his colleagues had a few possible ideas.

“We are only guessing, but the weather for two days leading up to the change was very nice, and we were seeing ocean conditions that looked like summertime,” he said. “That may have brought them in closer. They have been fasting for three or four months, and that calm may have made it easy for them to come in for a closer look for a snack on their way north.”

Nature put on quite a show the entire week in various ways, but especially with the whales. Grover said a Minke whale was spotted several times in different locations around Depoe Bay, which is a bit unusual.

A Minke whale is the smallest of the baleen whales, clocking in at around 30 feet.

He said there were three sightings of mothers and baby whales, which Grover said was notable because it’s a little early in the season for babies.

“Breaches were being reported all along the coast,” Grover said. “It seems the whales were very happy to be back in the area.”


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Breaches are when whales lunge out of the water, sometimes getting airborne. Grover said he saw this a few times this year, with the whales nearly completely out of the water, with only their tales still in the ocean as they jump out for a second. He described it as looking a bit like a submarine when it makes an emergency surface.

Spyhop on central coast - photo by Morris Grover

“I’ve seen them get completely airborne before,” Grover said. “It’s quite a sight. I saw that last year, actually.”

Grover said it is one great feat to get these great behemoths into the air to any degree. They weigh about 70,000 pounds, or about 35 tons.

Another exciting sight was the whales doing spyhops, Grover said. This is when they briefly emerge from the water with their eyes fixed on something, apparently looking at the world around them. This was spotted several times on Friday.

“I’ve seen them do that, then go down into the water, spin around 180 degrees, and come back so that the other eye is facing the same direction as the last eye was,” Grover said. “They are extremely agile under water, and can spin around or maneuver very quickly.

"They raise up straight out of the water. They are actually looking at the people or the shoreline. When I watched the whale pivot, it was so that he could see all the people standing on the sidewalk and he scanned 180 degrees. Then the second spyhop was looking at the same area again as if to see if we were watching."

Cape Foulweather, between Newport and Depoe Bay, another popular whale watch spot

Volunteers at Rocky Creek, just south of Depoe Bay, watched spyhops and a mother and baby for hours on Friday.

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The whales weren’t the only ones providing the entertainment, Grover said.

“Yaquina Head visitors got to watch whales but also a bald eagle pick a bird of the rocks,” Grover said. “Not to be outdone, Depoe Bay watched a bald eagle pick up a large fish and carry it off. But just to make sure visitors watched it, he came back and picked up a second fish from the same spot.”

Feed the seals! One of the oldest aquariums in the U.S. is here in Seaside, Oregon, right on the PromenadeGrover said there’s more interesting stuff to come, whether or not there are volunteers out there.

“It truly was an amazing show this year,” he said. “Don't forget that the whales are still heading north, and even if we don't have our volunteers out there, the whales are. We will still be watching them going north until the first of June. Mothers and babies are the last to arrive and they usually peak around Mother's Day.

“Don't forget that summer watching is the best time to see the whales close up. Summer whales are here for the food. The ocean won't start really producing food until June, with constant whales eating off the coast from mid July to mid November. Check the Whale Watching Center;s 'recent sightings' on the web at whalespoken.org.”

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