Fewer people, more whales

By Jane Stebbins, Pilot staff writer January 22, 2013 10:20 pm

The Pilot/Jane Stebbins
The Pilot/Jane Stebbins
More whales were spotted at sea during Whale Watching Week at the end of December than last year, but fewer people were on hand to admire them, most likely due to inclement weather.

According to Whale Watching Spoken Here’s tally on its website, a total of 1,014 whales were spotted from Dec. 26 to 30 this year from Cape Disappointment to Crescent City. That compared with 590 sighted last year during the same period.

Volunteers from Whale Watching Spoken Here, a Depoe Bay-based program offered by the Oregon Department of Parks and Recreation, were on hand during the week at numerous spots along the coast to help people locate the behemoths.

Whale Watching Spoken Here  is the largest whale-watching organization in the world.

About 18,000 whales head to warmer weather to give birth to calves at the end of each year. Gray whales are the main attraction, but others animals, including porpoises, dolphins, orca whales and Aleutian geese can also be seen.

Although whales are still visible along the coast, the next time land-locked folks will be able to see them en masse will be March 23-30, when they make their exodus from the warmer climes of Baja California to the Arctic to feed over the summer.

This year, more whales were spotted at the Umpqua site – 133 – than anywhere else. Last year, the best viewing could be found at Harris Beach, where 246 whales were spotted.

Most whales are seen when they rise up from the ocean to breathe and spew water into the air, called a “blow.” Others are seen when they break through the water and crash back in.

The whales each have spent the summer feeding on an average of 65 tons of plankton blooms whose population explodes during two months of 24-hour-long days of sunshine in the Arctic. The gray whale capitalizes on this enormous bloom in there to ensure it has enough energy stored in its blubber to make the 10,000- to 12,000-mile migration — believed to be the longest annual trek taken by any mammal.

The 35- to 40-foot-long behemoths weigh between 20 and 40 tons.

About 2,780 people came out with wet-weather gear and binoculars this year to seek them; that compared to 7,044 folks last year.

Visit www.whalespoken.org for more information.