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Mar-14-2018 17:05printcomments

Gray Whales Show Up Early Off Oregon Coast

Witness the sight of some 18,000 gray whales migrating northward
during Spring Whale Week March 24-31

gray whale Oregon
OSU says about 200 gray whales are known informally as Oregon's "resident" gray whales, because they hang out along the coastline from northern California to Washington throughout much of the summer.
Photo: oregonstate.edu

(NEWPORT, Ore.) - Gray whale sightings along the Oregon coast are exceptional right now, having kicked in early, starting at the end of February when the Whale Watch Week was almost a month away.

In the Newport / Depoe Bay area, they've been spotting five to ten whales a day at the Whale Watching Center alone, and that's nothing compared to the explosions of reports on social media.

The two biggest factors are the rise in numbers of whales, as the migration northward has already begun, and the great weather.

Luke Parsons, head of the Whale Watch Center in Depoe Bay, said it's not uncommon to see more right about now, but the calm weather makes them easier to see. They are sometimes putting on an incredible show.

“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.

“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.”

There are plenty of the whales that are simply hanging out and attempting to feed, having not migrated all the way south to Mexico in the winter.

One reason that observers know this is the whales' behaviors, and this has led to some of the more spectacular sights.

They come in closer to land 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 it appeared that whale was not migrating but certainly trying to feed.”

Some of the whales being spotted right now are Orcas and not just gray whales, Parsons said.

Estimates are that one percent of the migrating gray whale population stays along the Pacific Northwest coast during the summer and don't fully migrate.

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.

Newport has about a dozen tour boat companies that take you out on whale watch tours where you're likely to see even more whales than are spotted onshore.

Source: Oregon Coast Beach Connection

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