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 along the coastline
Bring binoculars for a chance to view gray whales during Winter Whale Watch Week, Dec. 26-30. “The 24 designated ‘Whale Watching Spoken Here’ sites were selected because they are the best viewpoints to spot the roughly 18,000 whales that cruise past Oregon on their annual southbound migration,” said Ian Fawley, Whale Watching Center interpretive ranger. Trained volunteers will be available at these sites along the coast 10 a.m. – 1 p.m. daily to help visitors learn about the whales’ migration and feeding habits, and offer tips on how to spot the whales.
The Oregon Parks and Recreation Department (OPRD) Whale Watching Center in Depoe Bay will be open 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. daily during the watch week. The whale watching center has exhibits on whales, staff to answer questions and ‘whale size’ windows with panoramic ocean views.
OPRD coordinates both the winter and spring whale watch weeks in partnership with federal, state and local organizations. More information about the Whale Watching Spoken Here program and a map of the official viewpoints are available online at www.whalespoken.org .
Whale Watch Center at Depoe Bay
Become a Whale Watching Spoken Here volunteer
Want to help visitors see and learn about the gray whales? Training sessions are scheduled Jan. 12 at Port Orford and Feb. 9 at Nehalem. The sessions teach you to find, identify and understand the whales along the Oregon Coast. Training is free if you pre-register and sign up to volunteer at one of the watch sites for at least two days during a Watch Week. Interested? Visit www.whalespoken.org and look for the training registration & agenda information.
Tips for spotting migrating whales
According to reports from our Whale Watching Center at Depoe Bay, the spring Gray whale migration is off to a fast start. All signs point to a peak during Spring Whale Watch Week March 20-27. The whales are headed north from their winter breeding grounds off Mexico’s coast to the Arctic Ocean for the summer.
Your best bet for spotting one, says Park Ranger Morris Grover, is to come to one of the 26 “Whale Watching Spoken Here” sites along the Oregon coast. Trained volunteers stand ready 10 a.m.-1 p.m. to help you know what to look for.
If you can’t make it to the sites, Grover offers this advice:
- Go to a viewpoint 50-100 feet above the ocean that has a good view to the southwest. “This lets you see one-two miles offshore with the whales coming toward you,” said Grover. The best time is
8 a.m.-1 p.m.
- Without using binoculars, focus on the southern third of your view and watch for blows.
- If you think you see a blow, keep studying the spot and wait for repeats. A whale usually blows three to five times, with 30-50 seconds between blows, then dives below the surface.
- Keep watching, but move your eyes 300-500 yards northward. That’s the distance whales usually travel before popping up and blowing again.
Here are some other tips to help you have a whale of a time:
- Wear polarized sunglasses;
- Use binoculars only for close-up views,
- Dress to stay warm and dry.
If you’re traveling on the central coast, stop in Depoe Bay at the Whale Watching Center on the south end of the seawall. Or, visit the center’s website.
Whale Watching Center
Whale Watching Spoken Here sites
Coastal visitor information
Oregon Coast Visitors Association
Central Oregon Coast Visitors Association
Southern Oregon Visitors Association
Travel Oregon – Explore Oregon’s Coast
Depoe Bay Chamber of Commerce