Have a Whale of a Time on the Central Coast

By Gretchen Ammerman | Tuesday, December 3, 2019

The training opened strong. Apparently you can best tell if a gray whale is a male by waiting until he is “in the mood,” as put by Dr. Bruce Mate, world-famous marine mammologist at the Hatfield Marine Science Center. To prove the point, he then put up a slide to show it.

I’d expected a slide of a blue whale during the Whale Watching Spoken Here training, and not a blue slide of a gray whale, but it certainly lightened the mood in the filled auditorium.

Trained volunteers from the program can be found twice per year during the official whale watching weeks at over 20 locations on the Oregon coast and can answer many questions about whale identification, behavior and history, and they can also help you spot whales. They're getting ready, too, as the winter Whale Watch Week is right around the corner at the end of the month.

Trainings happen a few times a year at various locations on the coast, and spots fill quickly. Many of those who've completed their training plan vacations around coming to the coast to fulfill their volunteer hours. Another perk, besides getting to see a whale in all his glory, is free camping at any state park campground on the coast while you are providing information for other whale enthusiasts.

Dr. Mate showing the graphic for the new license plates that demonstrate Oregon's love for whales.

Even if you don't want to make the commitment to becoming a volunteer but still want to experience some of the coast's biggest tourist attractions, you can visit during the winter week, which falls between Christmas and New Year's. For a consistent way to see the whales are learn about them all month, head to the Whale Watching Center in Depoe Bay, one of the best places to spot regular visitors like Scarback, a Depoe Bay resident gray whale who bears a huge scar on her back left by an exploding harpoon. Though it appeared the harpoon entered one side of her body and exploded as it left the other side, this super trooper not only survived but went on to calf every few years since she was first sighted in 1979, her scars made even more evident by the bright orange crab lice that live in them.

Other than the Depoe Bay center, Oregon State Park Ranger Luke Parsons recommends Cape Lookout, north of Pacific City, for those who are willing to take the 5 mile round trip hike to the view point, Neahkahnie Mountain Historic Marker, which is right off of U.S. Highway 101 north of Manzanita, and the Cape Meares Lighthouse, as excellent spotting sites.

A full list of locations can be found here.

For people who want to get closer to the whales, boat tours are an option. “All the charter companies will be taking people out for excursions during whale watch week,” Parsons said.

If you prefer to stay on land, though, Parsons has learned some tips that he is happy to share to enhance the whale spotting experience:

“Typically the ocean is calmer in the morning, and the light is better for viewing. In the afternoon, the glare off of the ocean makes it harder to see. My favorite time is right before sunset when the spouts are backlit, and the ocean is usually calmer again. It can be pretty spectacular.”

If you have a whale tale, share it in our comments section. For other things to do on the Central Coast, check out our Daytime Events calendar. For evening entertainment, our Nightlife page steers you to the top happenings on the Central Coast.

About the Author Gretchen Ammerman
Gretchen Ammerman received an Environmental Science degree from Humboldt State University and was soon running a state environmental agency in Hawaii. She gave it up for the glamorous life of the freelance writer. This led to steady employment as a newspaper editor in Lincoln City, OR, where she knew she was doing well when the paper was threatened with a lawsuit within a week. Though the work was rewarding, she returned to freelance writing to have more freedom to explore the beautiful state of Oregon with her adopted dog, Scout.