Whale Watching Week expected to turn out crowds

Whales will be migrating north along the coast in droves during Whale Watching Week, which starts March 23. (Courtesy photo)

DEPOE BAY —  Volunteers are gearing up for thousands of curious visitors to whale watching sites over Spring Break.

Locals and visitors alike can expect a whale of a time when scanning the water off the Oregon coast this week. Saturday, March 23 marks the beginning of the spring Whale Watching Week, which highlights a migration of roughly 20,000 gray whales making their way north for the summer.

“Each year, it’s a great time to come out and look and see these whales up close,” said Park Ranger Luke Parsons. “This time of year, they’re in a little closer — usually about a mile or so (from the shore).”

Parsons serves as an interpreter at the Whale Watching Center in Depoe Bay — a town known to many as the whale watching capital of the Oregon coast. While many spots make for great whale watching, he explained that Depoe Bay is a particularly great place to park and look out for the giant mammals.

“We have the visitor center open year round, looking for whales,” said Parsons. “It’s also an excellent spot to look for them all summer-long — really any time of the year, you can see a whale here. Our harbor is a little bit different than other coastal communities; it’s pretty deep and there’s a lot of food here for these gray whales. So especially in the summertime, June through October, there will be maybe 10 or 12 whales everyday in the bay, feeding."

Though whales can be seen off the coast of Oregon all year long, each year there are two major whale migrations: south in the winter and north in the spring. The spring Whale Watching Week brings visitors from across the country as well as all over the world — Parson estimates that the center will be visited by around 1,000 people per day during the coming week. Though there are lots of reasons to love working at the center, the best thing, he said, is “just the joy that people have when they see a whale. It’s pretty contagious and it’s very special.”

And while the whales are out in the ocean 24 hours a day, Parsons has some advice for those eager to experience that joy: come in the morning. It’s easier to spot a whale when the sun is rising behind whale watchers, where as it can glare and make seeing whales difficult when it sets over the ocean in the afternoon. In addition, there’s less wind coming off of the ocean in the mornings, also making it easier to look out over the water.

“But don’t be surprised if you see whales at any time of day,” Parsons added.

All along the Oregon coast, there are rangers and volunteers willing and able to talk about the whales and the journey they are making from Baja, Mexico up to the arctic. There are 10 sites in Lincoln County that will be manned by volunteers of the Whale Spoken Here program, which was started in 1978 by Don Giles of the Hatfield Marine Science Center in an effort to educate visitors during peak whale watching times.

For those who can’t make it out to the shoreline to catch a glimpse of gray themselves, for the third year running, the Oregon State Parks YouTube page will have a livestream filming from the Depoe Bay center during Whale Watching Week.

To view a map of Whale Spoken Here locations and read more information about the volunteer program, visit whalespoken.wordpress.com.

The Whale Watching Center in Depoe Bay is open year round, Wednesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. More information about the center can be found at oregonstateparks.org.

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