To go whale spotting you don’t need a bunch of fancy schmancy equipment. What you do need is all of the Type B personality you can possibly muster and perhaps a good set of binoculars. Looking for whales from the coastline is not for the high-strung. It’s an activity where you get to kick back, relax, scan the horizon, cross your fingers and hope that the whales show up and reveal themselves.
Greg and I have spotted whales on many occasions, and every time we see just one of these massive creatures, it’s a great big thrill for us! We recently returned from another vacation where we did, indeed, spot these impressive marine mammals just off shore. This time it was from the rugged and rocky Central Oregon Coast, near the town of Depoe Bay.
Depoe Bay, home of “The World’s Smallest Navigable Harbor,” is also famous for its resident gray whale population. Amazingly, gray whales (Eschrichtius robustus) call Depoe Bay home for ten months out of the year (March-December). Known as the “Whale Watching Capital of the Oregon Coast,” this friendly little city is also home to Oregon’s newest state park, aptly named the Whale Watching Center. The park center is housed in a building located on Highway 101, directly on Depoe Bay.
One sure fire sign that whales are in the area is the sighting of what is known as “The Blow.” I can tell you from personal experience that this can be a very tricky sighting. If you are the only one in your scouting party to spot such maneuvers on the surface of the deep blue sea, your son-in-law just might ask you if you’ve been in the sun too long! (Yes, that really happened.) Hang in there! It really is a matter of training one’s eyes to see the difference between spouting water and a white cap.
According to the Whale Watching Center brochure: Gray whales usually surface every 45 seconds as they swim, but will often stay under for 3 to 5 minutes when they are eating. If they have been down for 5 minutes they usually blow 5 times when they surface to replenish their oxygen supply. If they are frightened they can stay down for 30 minutes, hiding on the bottom or traveling great distances. Sometimes they dive and reappear 1/4 mile away. The blow or spout shoots nearly 12 feet high expelling 400 liters of air in a single blast.
Other surface antics to watch for include:
The ultimate in whale sightings is a breach—when a whale launches as much as 3/4 of its body out of the water in a spectacular show of power and grace.
Whales have the largest brain of any animal on earth. They are very intelligent and curious, often seen “spyhopping,” or lifting their heads above the surface of the water.
A deep dive, also known as sounding or fluking, happens when a whale lifts its tail flukes out of the water.
The Whale Watching Center is staffed with plenty of friendly volunteers and park employees. Along with an educational experience, the family friendly visitor center provides real-time information on areas where whales are currently being spotted and where they’ve been seen in most recent days. The helpful reports provided here led us just north to Boiler Bay State Park, where we enjoyed our clearest whale sightings of the day. Yay!
If you’re heading to the Oregon Coast for a whale watching expedition, be sure to check out the Whale Watching Center brochure. The pamphlet includes much more information on whale behavior along with a map of the 24 best whale watching spots from Crescent City, California to Ilwaco, Washington.
More interesting reading: Fun Whale Facts
A few other whale watching locations:
Cabrillo National Monument (San Diego, California)
Wineglass Bay (Freycinet Peninsula of Tasmania)
Point Reyes National Seashore (Marin County, California)