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Oregon Coast Whale Watching: 6 to 20 Sightings a Day

Published 06/08/2017 at 6:03 AM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Oregon Coast Whale Watching: 6 to 20 Sightings a Day

(Depoe Bay, Oregon) – There isn't much that gets people more excited about visiting the Oregon coast than a good run of whale watching, and that's exactly what's happening right now. The official numbers on the central Oregon coast are an average of six to 20 whales spotted a day, in areas scattered all over that section. From Yachats up to Lincoln City (which includes Newport, Seal Rock, Waldport, Gleneden Beach and Depoe Bay), there have been lots of reports of gray whales wandering the region, and social media is filled with quite a few videos of whales spouting.

Luke Parsons, head of the Whale Watch Center in Depoe Bay, said it all started back during March's Whale Watch Week. The numbers were good then as the grays slowly swam their way up to feeding grounds closer to Alaska, and with a generally good run of weather conditions they seem to be sticking around.

“We had a very busy and successful spring whale watch week, and it's just really kind'a continued on,” Parsons said. “We definitely have our summertime resident whales along the central Oregon coast, and we're seeing six to 20 a day, as long as the weather allows.”

Parsons said plenty of reports have come in from all over Lincoln County. While those numbers of six to 20 sightings per day come from the Depoe Bay center, he said he's getting enough callers about whales in other areas that those numbers are likely steady up and down that geographic range.

They've been coming quite close to shore, according to many reports and videos. There have been numerous reports of them hanging out close to the Cape Perpetua Visitors Center near Yachats.

A good rule of thumb: if reports are this good from shore, you can bet the whale watch boat tours are riding high on even more whale encounters.

“Last month we had a group of Bottlenose whales come through, and the Orcas were here for four or five days,” he said. “We're definitely gearing up for another good summer of whale watching.”

The biggest factor is most often weather. If seas are rough and it's windy, the whale steer clear of near-shore activity. Large waves also create big gullies that makes the whales hard to see.

Every year, there are what officials call the “resident whales” along the central coast, attracted to this area because of lots of krill and mycid shrimp. They linger here, and often it's the same ones each year, sometimes year-round. But others come and go and are replaced by other cetacean loiterers.

These areas are full of this food source because of the thick kelp forests. Gray whales chomp on about 500 pounds to 2,000 pounds of the tiny creatures every day.

There are some special encounters that can leave witnesses breathless, however. Such as when the whales get real close. Often, this is because the mother whales are trying to keep their babies away from predators, such as Orcas. However, Parsons said gray whales can feel more comfortable in shallow water than Orcas or other whales, and that tends to chase the killer whales away.

“Studies have shown these whales feel comfortable in as little as six feet of water,” Parsons said.

Even more spectacular is when the grays are apparently quite curious about you. Sometimes a whale will do a maneuver called a spyhop, where they pop out of the water and then flop back in again, mostly to take a look around them. Parsons, along with many boat tour operators, believe this is when a real connection can happen.

“There have been a few occasions when they spyhop in front of the visitor center, and I'm pretty sure they're staring right at us,” he said. “I do think they're curious. Especially the young ones.” Where to stay for this event - Where to eat - Map and Virtual Tour - More about Oregon Coast Whales.

Gray whale photos below courtesy Seaside Aquarium


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