Still migrating

The COVID-19 pandemic has again canceled the popular winter Whale Watching Week that attracts people to the Oregon Coast.

"Volunteer support and access to the Whale Watch Center in Depoe Bay have been cancelled for both winter and spring whale watches in 2020 and 2021, so the last four opportunities," Oregon State Parks and Recreation Department spokesman Chris Havel said. "We will be back with the volunteer team as soon as it’s safe."

The Whale Watching Week is normally held from Dec. 27 through the 31st. Havel said coast visitors wanting to see the whales under the canceled situation have faced limited opportunities since spring 2020.

"You don’t need gear, but wide-view binoculars and spotting scopes can help you zoom in after you spot the puff of water vapor from a blow with your naked eye," he said. "After you see the sign, start tracking south to follow the whale’s journey."

Havel said morning viewing is best.

"If it’s not totally overcast, so you’re not fighting the sun while looking west," he said. "There are plenty of tips online for Oregon whale watching.

A map online at https://stateparks.oregon.gov/index.cfm?do=things-to-do.whale-watching shows the best headlands where you can catch views of passing whales. The beach isn’t a good spot for viewing.

Havle urges beach visitors to take additional precautions along the shoreline due to the winter conditions.

  • Take care to stay well back of cliff edges. There are fences in some places, and respect them, but not everywhere. Be your own best safety coach and be careful. After rain and wind storms, cliff edges are unstable and can give way without warning.
  • Check the weather and bring the right clothing to stay warm and dry.

Despite the pandemic, the whales continue their annual migration.

"In the winter, we get to enjoy seeing nearly 20,000 gray whales from mid-December through mid-January as they travel south to the warm lagoons of Baja Mexico," he said. "After giving birth, there’s a north-bound migration in spring."

According to Havel, people are fascinated by large, wild animals for good reason.

"People are clever and good at inventing and building ways to survive and thrive, and wildlife like whales do the same thing through sheer awesome power," he said. "There’s still some mystery about their lives, and seeing them in action is a thrill. Seeing them in real life is also a reminder of how we affect all marine life, and have a responsibility to eliminate pollution and be careful stewards of the planet’s resources."

Hacel adds that people are naturally attracted to the whales' beauty, mystery, and power.

"But we also appreciate being reminded of our place in these natural systems," and it makes us all feel part of the family," he said.

While the cancellation of Whale Watching Week can be an economic impact for coast businesses, Havel said there have been so many other disruptions these last two years, people have adapted.

"Some people may choose not to participate in whale watching if there aren’t volunteers available to help them, but many people have always done it solo, and there are also private boat tours available," Havel said. "Folks interested in the guided tour experience should check with Travel Oregon and the Oregon Coast Visitors Association for more information."

Lean more about the whale migration at https://stateparks.oregon.gov and following the links.

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