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end December and end March – Central Oregon Coast, Oregon
The entire Oregon Coast celebrates the gray whale migration along its shores twice a year (Spring and Winter) with special Whale Watching Weeks.
The gray whales leave their feeding grounds in Alaska in late October passing Oregon mid-December through January heading for their nurseries, the warm-water lagoons of Baja California, Mexico. They pass Oregon during the Spring return from late March to June.
Some 19,000 gray whales pass close to the Oregon Coast on each journey – a magnet for whale-watchers.
The migration is so popular that there are "Whale Watching Spoken Here" programs – places where volunteers at great whale watching sites during Whale Watching Weeks help folks see and learn about whales and the migration. Oregon Parks and Recreation Department park rangers are ready at the Whale Watching Center in Depoe Bay year around to answer questions and help visitors find whales to watch.
Some 200 gray whales feed along the Oregon coast during the summer (usually mid-July through October). They are best seen from shore in rocky areas but occasionally in sandy areas. Whale watching boat trips are usually one hour long.
Visitors can make Newport their base of operations with ready access to Whale Watching Spoken Here sites at Don Davis State Park, in the historic Nye Beach neighborhood, and Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area with its lighthouse, tide pools and interpretive center.
Four other official sites are a short drive away: Oregon's Whale Watching Center in Depoe Bay and the Depoe Bay Sea Wall, Rocky Creek State Scenic Viewpoint, Cape Foulweather and the Devil's Punchbowl State Natural Area. All are just a few miles to the north. Trained volunteers are ready and waiting at those sites, daily from 10am to 1pm in late March. Boiler Bay, a mile north of the Whale Watching Center is also a great location.
Visitors can learn even more with a healthy dose of fun by heading to Newport's Hatfield Marine Science Center, which offers storytelling, interpretive programs and other events during the Whale Watching Weeks. While they're there, they can meet the resident giant pacific octopus, Reuben, learn at the touch pool, shop the marine-centric bookstore or take a walk on the estuary trail.
The Oregon Coast Aquarium also offers a whale's mouthful of information about the great mammals that will entertain the whole family on many levels. The aquarium also hosts numerous spring break events that coincide with the Whale Watching Weeks.
For most people, however, seeing a spout from a distance only whets their appetite for more. Visitors can see a whale up close by simply purchasing a spot on the deck of a charter boat. They come in all shapes and sizes in Newport, which is home to the largest charter and fishing fleet on the Oregon coast. Charter boats also operate out of Depoe Bay. Weather permitting, these seasoned captains can get visitors closer to nature than they've ever been before – and nothing compares to the shine on a whale's fluke, massive and jaw-dropping. The law requires that the boats stay 100 yards away from the whales, but occasionally when a boat turns off its motor to watch, whales may approach the boat out of curiosity. But that is the whale’s choice, not the boat’s.
After all that excitement, find some recreation or good eats at Newport's vibrant Bayfront, complete with fishing boats, restaurants, galleries, candy stores, Ripley's Believe it or Not and Undersea Gardens.
Facts About Whale Watching
• Don't go to the beach. Go to a higher vantage point, at least 50 feet above sea level.
• Look for a day with a flat ocean – waves don't hide the whales from view.
• Watch in the morning while the sun is at your back. It’s easier on your eyes.
• Don’t use binoculars to find whales. Use your eyes. Binoculars have a narrow field of vision so you could miss most of the whales. After you have found the whales, use the binoculars to watch them.
• Newport and Depoe Bay have many whale watching tours.
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