By Peter Rice
Pilot staff writer
There's free food on the beach.
Clams, to be precise.
"It makes for an excellent family outing," said Angela Stewart, an interpretive ranger at Harris Beach State Park in Brookings.
Clamming on Oregon beaches is cost effective, easy and the results are quite tasty when eaten raw or with a little butter or garlic.
Here's how to do it:
Visit a sporting goods store to pick up a shellfish license and a handbook of sporting regulations. Licenses for shellfish are between $6.50 and $16.50, depending on residency. Those younger than 14 don't need a license
Call (800) 448-2474 to check if there are any restrictions resulting from an algae bloom or red tide.
Find a favorable tide. Get a tide booklet from a sporting goods store or check the newspaper. For good clamming, find at least a "minus one" tide. This will make sense when you get the book.
"Anything less than that and you're just not going to get to the good clamming area," Stewart says.
Get together a small garden rake or trowel, a bucket, some sturdy, rubber boots, clothes and (optional) some rubber gloves.
Find a beach, such as Lone Ranch, which is a few miles north of Brookings.
On the beach near the water, look for rocky areas punctuated by occasional spots of wet sand and gravel. This is prime clam habitat.
Get out your equipment and start digging. Butter clams hang out a few inches under the surface or, if you're lucky, right on top of it. And where you find one clam, you'll probably find another. They tend to hang out in "beds" with a few companions.
Whale watching has become an increasingly popular activity for both residents and visitors to the Oregon Coast.
Each year gray whales pass Curry County while migrating from the warm waters of Baja California to the frigid seas off Alaska, and then back again.
Spectators gather near beaches and ocean cliffs to view the huge mammals during the southbound leg of their 10,000 mile round-trip journey.
The best time to view whales offshore along the South Coast is December through April. The southerly migration sometime begins as early as October.
Unlike most whales, gray whales travel close to shore. Because of this, watchers with binoculars can easily spot them from headlands, the high section of shoreline above the ocean.
Popular whale watch sites in southern Curry County include Harris Beach, House Rock, Cape Ferrelo and Arch Rock. The jetty at Port Orford is popular for watchers in Northern Curry County. Another popular site is at Brother Jonathan Vista Point at the west end of Ninth Street in Crescent City.
During the week between Christmas and New Year's Day, and during spring break, watch for "Whale Watching Spoken Here" signs. Volunteers will be on hand to help people spot whales.
Boats are another good way to get up close to whales, but watchers must be careful not to harass the large mammals.
On clear days the best time to look for whales is early in the morning, before the wind picks up and creates whitecaps, or on overcast days, when the ocean is usually flatter and there is less glare.
When looking for whales, watch for the blow when vapor shoots eight to 12 feet into the air as the whale exhales.
The whale will usually make up to six short exhales before a long dive of about 120 feet for three to five minutes is made.
The Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) reports domoic acid levels are within the safe range in razor clams collected from beaches north of the Umpqua River at Reedsport/Winchester Bay and from south of Otter Point on Bailey Beach, four miles north of Gold Beach.
These results clear the way for Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) to open razor clamming on all beaches north of the Umpqua River and all beaches south of Otter point (four miles north of Gold Beach to the California border. The opening is effective 12:01 a.m. Friday, May 26. Razor clamming areas from the Umpqua River south to Otter Point remains closed due to elevated levels, including all razor clamming beaches in the Coos Bay area.
Razor clamming from Florence to the Newport was opened earlier this month. Areas north of Newport to Seaside were opened in March. Clatsop Beach Tillamook Head to Columbia River mouth razor clam harvesting has been open since last October.
Razor clam samples from the closed Coos Bay area remain above 20 ppm for domoic acid. Levels are declining from a 2005 harmful algae bloom affecting the south coast. Razor clams retain domoic acid in the edible tissue and can take months to purge the toxin.
Domoic acid is a naturally occurring toxin produced by marine phytoplankton or algae. Eating shellfish contaminated with domoic acid can cause minor illness within minutes to hours after consumption. Low to moderate levels of domoic acid can cause milk to severe symptoms for consumers, especially pregnant women and immune compromised individuals. More severe cases of domoic acid poisoning can result in short term memory problems. Anyone experiencing symptoms after consuming razor clams should contact a physician.
Recent samples of mussels and other clams have tested safe for toxins and remain open. Phytoplankton monitoring conducted jointly by ODFW and ODA is helping alert the agencies to harmful algae blooms. Recent monitoring has indicated there are no active blooms at this time.
ODA oversees the shellfish toxin-monitoring program. ODFW issues fishery closures and openings. ODA, ODFW, and permitted volunteers collect razor clam samples whenever weather and tidal conditions permit. Updates on shellfish toxin closures are at ODA's Shellfish Safety hotline, (800) 448-2474 and online at oregon.gov/ODA/. Click on the link titled "shellfish closures". A shellfish license is required to harvest shellfish.
For information on Oregon's razor clams visit www.dfw.state.or.us/MRP/shellfish/razorclams.