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Whale Sightings Bonkers Along Oregon Coast, Well Before Whale Watch Week

Published 03/06/2018 at 4:55 PM PDT - Updated 03/06/2018 at 5:15 PM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Whale Sightings Bonkers Along Oregon Coast, Well Before Whale Watch Week

(Oregon Coast) – Whale sightings are nearly off the charts in the last week along the Oregon coast, and the area’s Whale Watch Week is still more than two weeks away. What’s new and interesting this time is a lot of them are being spotted up north, around Seaside, Astoria, Cannon Beach and Manzanita. (Photo above courtesy Seaside Aquarium).

Parts of social media are lighting up with the sightings, including the Facebook group Clatsop & Pacific County Whale Sightings. Gray whales have been spotted (often with hefty amounts of glee) from Neahkahnie Mountain and even spouting in the Cove area of Seaside.

Normally, heavy sightings of whales happen more along the central Oregon coast.

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Luke Parsons, head of the Whale Watch Center in Depoe Bay, said it’s a combination of the weather, the migrating whales and the whales that have simply lingered in the area.

“We had some really good weather lately and that’s led to a lot of good whale sightings up and down the coast,” Parsons said.

It’s not uncommon to see quite a few this early in the month, Parsons said, as their migration northward to feeding grounds in Alaska is beginning right now. What has really helped has been the weather, which has been calmer and less stormy, which simply makes them easier to spot.

Another has been the migration patterns are different for some groups, which have decided to linger along the coastline more than others, or at least not stray as far as Mexico with their compatriots who migrated there in winter.

“What we’re seeing now is a mix of some of the gray whales headed back up north,” Parsons said. “We also had a fair number of gray whales that didn’t fully migrate, which we see from time to time. Researchers are getting better at tracking some of these animals.”

For whatever reason, there are always a number of gray whales that don’t migrate all the way down to Mexico. They stick around the shorelines of the Pacific Northwest to eat, fatten up and get more energy.

There are always a rotating population of so-called “resident” whales along the coast, which is actually called the Pacific Feeding Group by scientists.

“Most whales we’re seeing off the coast now are not summertime whales,” Parsons said.

One reason that observers know the whales are feeding and fattening right now is their behaviors. They come in closer to shore instead of migrating several miles offshore. When they’re here, Parsons and others have seen them engage in a different diving pattern.

“Last month we had a couple of whales within a few hundred yards off the Whale Watch Center, very very close shore, in very predictable feeding areas” he said. “We know they’re going for a deeper dive when the whale’s fluke comes up out of the water. That’s a signal they’re heading straight down to the bottom. We had one whale stay in a known feeding area for almost three hours, so obviously that whale was not migrating but feeding.”

Parsons said it may seem like a whole lotta whales out there that are the residents, but it’s really just a small percentage of the population.

“Estimates are that one percent of the population stays and doesn’t fully migrate,” he said. “So one percent of 20,000 is like 200. Still, that’s a pretty good number of whales but a small percent of the whole population.”

It’s practically the whole population that will be on display throughout March as some 18,000 gray whales migrate northward – the highlight of which is the 2018 Spring Whale Week from March 24 through 31. There, dozens of high vantage points along the Oregon coast will feature volunteers to help you spot the giant cetaceans wander north, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. each day. Where to stay for whale watching - Where to eat - Map and Virtual Tour

Parsons said there will often be hundreds wandering through these waters every day.. About 2,000 whales of other species will be seen as well, including Humpbacks and Orcas.

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Photos above: a mother whale and her calf, courtesy Seaside Aquarium

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