OREGON COAST — For decades, the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department has organized an annual Winter Whale Watch between Christmas and New Year’s Day. In a typical year, volunteers would be stationed at 24 different sites along the entire coast and at the Whale Watch Center in Depoe Bay to help people observe gray whales during their 6,000-mile migration down the Pacific coast to reach calving lagoons near the Baja peninsula.
But 2020 has not been a typical year, and as is the case with so many other activities, the Winter Whale Watch is taking a different form this year. Trained volunteers and staff are not available at whale watching sites, but most viewing sites managed by the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department remain open to visitors, although they should expect reduced services in some locations. The Whale Watching Center in Depoe Bay is also closed for now, but the viewing deck on the exterior of the building is open. So people are still encouraged to get out there on their own and watch for these impressive marine mammals as they make their way south.
And the whales are still out there. Researchers estimate that 18,000-plus gray whales now live in the eastern north Pacific area. About 30 whales per hour migrate past the Oregon coast during the peak southbound migration. By comparison, six per hour pass by on the northbound trip in the spring, but that return trip is spread over four months. Some 200-plus of these whales drop off the migration route and feed along the Oregon coast all summer.
More information about the history of Whale Watch Week, as well as a video on how to spot gray whales, can be found online at orwhalewatch.org.