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Posts Tagged ‘Gray Whale’

Whale Spotting… Maybe ;-)

Posted by Jody on November 7, 2012

Oregon’s Newest State Park: Depoe Bay Whale Center

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.

Looking for gray whales in Depoe Bay, Oregon.

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.

Whale spotting at Depoe Bay, Oregon.

Other surface antics to watch for include:

The Breach
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.

The Spyhop
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.

The Dive
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

“The World’s Smallest Harbor” in Depoe Bay, Oregon

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)

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Posted in Beach and Coastal Wildlife, Pacific Coast Beaches, Whales and Dolphins | Tagged: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Pacific Gray Whales: 4 Helpful Whale Spotting Tips

Posted by Jody on December 13, 2011

It’s time to dust off those binoculars! Tis the season for whale watching in sunny Southern California. Each year, Pacific Gray Whales can be spotted off the coast of Southern California from December through March.  According to the National Park Service: “Each winter, the Pacific Gray Whales pass by the western overlooks of Cabrillo National Monument.  After spending the summer feeding in the food-rich waters of the Arctic, the Grays swim south along the coast to the bays of Baja California, where they mate and nurse their young. Along the way, they pass Point Loma and Cabrillo National Monument, where you can witness the annual winter journey.”

Cabrillo National Monument (©Jody Diehl)

Cabrillo National Monument lies west of the city of San Diego, on the tip of the Point Loma Peninsula. The park is hosting Whale Watch Weekend on January 7 & 8, 2012. This family friendly event celebrates the diverse marine life of San Diego and features both whale watching and tide pooling.

If you cannot attend the whale watching weekend, no worries, find a  high coastal vantage point and scan the Pacific Ocean about 3/4 mile from the shoreline to the horizon. Just follow these suggestions for what to look for when watching for the Pacific Gray Whales!  These whale spotting tips come from the Cabrillo National Monument website:

1) The Blow or Spout – When warm, moist air exhaled from the whales’ lungs meets the cool air at the ocean surface, it creates the bushy column we call a blow, or spout. A gray whale’s blow is up to 15 feet high, and each blow is visible for about five seconds.  Anticipate that the whale will dive for three to six minutes, then surface for three to five blows in row, 30 to 50 seconds apart, before diving deep for three to six minutes again.

2) The Flukes (Tail) - Before making a long, deep dive, a gray whale often displays its 12-foot wide fan-shaped flukes, or tail. The weight of the tail above the whale’s body helps the whale to dive deep.  The flukes have no bones and connect to the body and tail muscles by banks of tendons.  The gray whale normally swims about five miles per hour, about the speed of a child on a bicycle.

3) The Knuckled Back and Footprint – If the lighting is right, and if the whale is close enough, it is possible to see the back of a gray whale during and after the blow.  It is shiny and black or gray, with a knuckled ridge along the spine. After the whale submerges you may note an elongated, smooth oval of calm water, known as a footprint, where the whale has been.

4) Breach and Splash - Gray whales occasionally hurl themselves out of the water and plunge back in with a tremendous splash.  This is called breaching.  Scientists do not know why gray whales do this, but it is very exciting sight to see.  Sometimes other whales in the area will copy this behavior, so keep your eyes open.

Gray Whale (PD-Scan, Author: Charles Melville Scammon/Wikimedia Commons)

Once You Have Spotted a Whale…Remember that they are migrating south, which is to your left as you look west out over the ocean from Cabrillo National Monument.  Once you have spotted a whale, you can expect that it will surface again to the south.  After watching an individual gray whale for a while, you will be able to anticipate its unique rhythm of breaths and dives, and where it will surface next.

Whale watching may take some time and patience, but once you’ve spotted these majestic creatures of the sea you’ll have a whale of a tale to tell!  It really is an exciting experience.  Good luck!

P.S. Please come on back and tell us about your Pacific Gray Whale sightings!

Posted in Southern California Beaches, Tallies & Tips, Whales and Dolphins | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

 
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