Whale watching is just one of those things demanding to be at the top of everyone’s bucket list. And Spring Whale Watch Week, March 23-30, is the perfect opportunity to get it done!
Photo credits to Taylor D. Smith
As part of their annual migration, thousands of gray whales and their newborn calves are swimming northbound along Oregon's North Coast as they head home to their feeding grounds near Alaska from their breeding grounds in Baja California, Mexico. The initial journey kicks off every year in December when these majestic giants of the sea travel south from the Arctic to spend four to six weeks in the temperate waters of Mexico where they mate, give birth to their young and school them on how to be whales. Spring Whale Watch Week is a celebration of their return voyage and a chance to welcome them back to northern waters.
Throughout the week, the 24 observation stations that stretch from Ilwaco, Washington, to Brookings, Oregon, will be manned by 300 trained volunteers from Oregon Parks and Recreation Department’s Whale Watching Spoken Here program. From 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. each day, these knowledgeable volunteers guide spectators in spotting and learning about the mammoth sea creatures as they blow, breach and dive along the Pacific Northwest coastline.
Established in 1978, the Whale Watching Spoken Here program has helped thousands of visitors worldwide witness the wonders of the gray whale migration, assisting roughly one million spectators over the past 40 years. Volunteers say it’s a good idea to prepare for wet weather, dress in layers and bring some binoculars.
Photo credits to Oregon Parks and Recreation
To give you an idea of how incredible these sightings are, experts say full-size female grays reach 45 feet in length, or the size of a school bus, and weigh in at about 70,000 pounds. Males tend to be smaller at around 35 feet in length. The round-trip migration logs approximately 12,000 miles and entails several months of fasting for the adult whales who lose up to 20,000 pounds of blubber during the course of this journey. On the other hand (or fin), the baby gray whales drink about 50 gallons of their mother’s milk per day and can gain five pounds per hour.
For optimum sightings, officials say the higher the viewpoint the better. Headlands have traditionally topped the list to get a glimpse of the whales, such as Cape Lookout near Tillamook. Neahkahnie Mountain Historic Marker Turnout on U.S. Highway 101 is another popular location. During their return trip, the whales tend to swim closer to shore to protect the calves from deep water predators. So it’s not unusual to spot them a half mile out.
The first large groups of whales pass by Oregon mid-March and the migratory stream usually continues into June. OPRD officials say an average of six whales per hour migrate past the Oregon coast during the peak northbound migration. Roughly 200 of them are expected to drop off the migration route and feed along the Oregon coast all summer. It’s estimated about 20,000 grays live in the eastern north Pacific area.
OPRD will be steaming the Spring Whale Watch Week migration live on its Facebook page and Youtube channel. An interactive map of the Whale Watching Spoken Here program's 24 locations can be found here.
For more information about Spring Whale Watch Week, go here or call (541) 765-3304. Make sure to check with nearby charter boat services, restaurants and hotels. Many offer specials during the peak of Whale Watch Week.