While many of us will be enjoying our shiny new gifts during the upcoming holiday week, another group of mammals has an entirely different goal: migration.
Gray whales have been cruising past the Oregon coast for two weeks now, part of their annual trip south to the warm lagoons off the coast of Baja, Mexico. Starting in chilly Alaskan waters, the whales swim over 6,000 miles down the west coast of North America. Experts estimate about 20,000 gray whales join the migration each year.
To celebrate the occasion, Oregon State Parks is holding the annual Whale Watching Week, December 27-31. Each day 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., volunteers will be stationed at 24 points along the coast, ready to help visitors with whale watching tips and provide fun facts about the aquatic creatures.
Not sure where to start? Stop by the Whale Watching Center in Depoe Bay, which is the info hub for all things whales. The center boasts excellent views of the surrounding surf, several whale exhibits, and free maps and brochures.
One of the newest exhibits is a high-definition webcam, which will be used to live stream whale activity every day of the event. The man behind the camera, Ranger Luke Parsons, hopes the technology will—among other things—create a larger awareness and compassion for whales and marine life. The live streams will be broadcast on the Oregon State Parks YouTube channel, http://bit.ly/OregonStateParksYouTube, weather permitting.
“Whales are a special part of the Oregon coast,” said Parsons. “Nearly 20,000 people visit our whale watch sites each winter and are greeted by our excellent volunteers. I hope visitors walk away feeling a little more connected to these animals, along with a greater appreciation of our oceans.”
If you think a day spent spotting gray whales sounds fun, visit whalespoken.wordpress.com for a map of the 24 volunteer-staffed sites. You can also visit oregonstateparks.org for more information about extended stays at one of the coastal state parks.
Trained volunteers stationed at Whale Watching Spoken Here sites Dec. 26-31
Migrating gray whales are moving from their feeding waters in the Bering and Chukchi Seas off Alaska to breeding and calving areas along the Baja Coast south of California. You can spot them from the best viewpoints, which are the 24 designated ‘Whale Watching Spoken Here’ sites. Join trained volunteers to spot the roughly 18,000 whales that cruise past Oregon. Volunteers are available 10 a.m. – 1 p.m. daily during the Watch Week to share information on whale migration and feeding habits and offer tips on how to spot the whales.
Because the “fast lane” in a gray whale winter migration is three to four miles offshore, bring a good set of binoculars.
The Whale Watching Center in Depoe Bay is open daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. during the Watch Week. You’ll find exhibits, volunteers to answer questions and ‘whale size’ windows overlooking panoramic ocean views. More information is online at www.whalespoken.org.
Winter Whale Watch Week, Dec. 26-Jan. 1
Gray whales are already passing Oregon’s coastline on their winter migration, and many more are on the way.
Trained volunteers will be ready to help you see the whales at 26 “Whale Watching Spoken Here” sites Dec. 26 through Jan. 1, 2011. Rain, fog or shine, they will be there daily from 10 a.m.-1 p.m.
Because the “fast lane” in a Gray whale winter migration is three to four miles offshore, bring a good set of binoculars. Having left their feeding waters in the Bering and Chukchi Seas off Alaska, these whales are focused on getting to their breeding and calving lagoons along the Baja Coast south of California.
Head to the highest viewpoints
All the “Whale Watching Spoken Here” sites are good, but viewpoints at Neahkahnie Mountain on the north coast, Cape Perpetua on the central coast and Cape Sebastian on the south coast offer the highest vantage points. A 2.5-mile hike to the tip of Cape Lookout, or a visit to Yaquina Head also offer great viewing sites.
OPRD’s Whale Watching Center in Depoe Bay is open daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. during whale watch weeks. You’ll find free movies and exhibits, as well as friendly people to help you spot the whales. More information and a map with the 26 site locations are online at www.whalespoken.org.
Want to volunteer?
Training for volunteers helping in the spring 2011 whale watch week (March 19-26) is scheduled Jan. 22 at the Oregon Institute of Marine Biology in Charleston, and Feb. 19 at Nehalem Bay State Park. Follow the link above for registration information.