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Whale Watching Week Takes Over Oregon Coast Starting Thursday

Published 12/23/2018 at 3:59 AM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection Staff

Whale Watching Week Takes Over Oregon Coast Starting Thursday

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(Oregon Coast) – The Oregon coast will be whale central for at least a week, as the peak of the gray whale migration is happening now. It all climaxes with the annual Whale Watching Week, starting December 27 and going until December 31. Put on by Oregon Parks and Recreation Department (OPRD), it features volunteers from the Whale Spoken Here program stationed at 24 sites along the coastline, helping people spot the great cetaceans from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Every winter some 20,000 gray whales migrate south from Alaska to the warmer waters off Baja, Mexico to give birth. The Whale Watching Week happens as this mass movement is at its greatest density, with OPRD saying around 30 whales per hour swim past any given point along the route.

Some of these can be Humpbacks and Orcas as well.

Luke Parsons, head of the Whale Watching Center in Depoe Bay, said whales are a special part of the Oregon coast. Besides giving the coastline a major boost in tourism, some of the big goals of the program include creating awareness and compassion for whales and other marine life.

Whale spotting has been difficult lately, according to Parsons, because of gnarly stormy weather. This tends to keep them farther out from shore and large swells hide them from view. No major storm issues are in the weather forecasts for this week, and wave height starts out relatively minor for the early week. Seas begin building to around 15 feet later, however, but it’s difficult to tell if that marine forecast will affect visibility of whales closer to shore.

If you can’t make it out to the Oregon coast during Whale Watching Week, there is still some good numbers to be had for a little while into January.

On the central coast – around Depoe Bay to Newport – there are always the so-called “resident whales” of the area. Each year, roughly 200 out of that 20,000 whales linger at some place along the Pacific United States, with a decent number becoming residents in this area. Plenty of whales are simply hanging out and attempting to feed, having not migrated all the way south to Mexico in the winter.

These whales are chomping on the copious mysid shrimp that hide in the huge number of kelp forests off areas like Depoe Bay, Cape Foulweather and down near Yachats. 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.

“That's a signal they're heading straight down to the bottom,” Parsons said.

Experts on the central Oregon coast also recognize many of the same whales returning over and over.

The Whale Watch Week sites begin with one on the Washington coast at the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center, Ilwaco, Washington.

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

The farthest one north on the Oregon coast is at Ecola State Park in Cannon Beach, and the next is 15 miles south at the Neahkahnie Mountain Historic Marker Turnout on Highway 101, just above Manzanita.

On the Three Capes Tour there is Cape Meares State Scenic Viewpoint, Cape Lookout State Park (that one requires a 2.5-mile hike to the site at the tip of the Cape), and then several miles south at the top of Cape Kiwanda in Pacific City.

In Lincoln County, you'll find the most sites: Inn at Spanish Head Lobby on 10th floor (Lincoln City), Boiler Bay State Scenic Viewpoint (near Depoe Bay), The Whale Watching Center in Depoe Bay, Rocky Creek State Scenic Viewpoint (just south of Depoe Bay), Cape Foulweather and the Devil's Punchbowl State Natural Area (both between Newport and Depoe Bay), Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area in Newport, and Don Davis City Park, also in Newport.

The next one is about a 30-minute drive south, past Yachats, at the Cape Perpetua Interpretive Center and the Cook's Chasm Turnout (directly on the Lincoln County/Lane County line).

About 15 miles south of there is the Sea Lion Caves Turnout – the large Highway 101 turnout south of tunnel, and a bit north of Florence.

On the southern Oregon coast, the Whale Watch sites are Umpqua Lighthouse, near Umpqua Lighthouse State Park, Shore Acres State Park, Face Rock Wayside State Scenic Viewpoint, Battle Rock Wayfinding Point in Port Orford, Cape Ferrelo, and Harris Beach State Park in Brookings, Oregon.



 



Whale photos above courtesy Seaside Aquarium

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