Every year, gray whales make the 12,000-mile round trip from the warm waters of Mexico where they mate and give birth to their calves to the cold waters of Alaska where they feed during the summer.
All along the Oregon Coast, volunteers from Whale Watching Spoken Here host their annual Whale Watch Week during spring break to educate people about the whales, as well as give pointers on the best way to catch a glimpse in the coming months.
During this migration, the longest of any mammal on earth, gray whales pass by the Oregon Coast and can be seen with the naked eye from the shore. The end of March going up until mid-May is the best time to view them as the bulls have often moved ahead already and the slower-swimming female whales stick closer to the shore with their calves.
The two most recommended places to watch for whales in Brookings are Harris Beach and Cape Ferrelo, both manned by volunteers during Whale Watch Week. These locations are ideal due to their high elevation, which allows visitors to see further out into the water to catch a glimpse of water spouts or the occasional breaching whale. Whales can also be seen closer to shore down at the harbor on occasion due to the deep water in the area.
This year, Harris Beach has been manned by Susan Fowler of Brookings, while Cape Ferralo was overseen by Steven and Sue Mathis of Brookings. Volunteers typically stay at the viewpoints from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. as those are optimal times to sight whales.
Whale Watching Week ends this Sunday, however, making this weekend your last chance this year to stop by and ask questions. But the end of whale week only marks the beginning of whale watching season as the mothers and calves will progress up the coast behind the unburdened bulls.
The female whales are larger, slower moving due to their calves and launch higher water spouts than the bulls, making them far easier to spot.
“It’s been an outstanding year,” Fowler said. “We’ve had six and nine whale days. One day up in Umpqua they even had 26 in one day.”
Whale watching can often be dependent on the weather as high wind and rain tend to mask the spouts used to locate whales. Time of day is also important because as the sun rises its higher glare makes it more difficult to peer out at the shining waters.
“A lot of people stop because they’re here for other things and get excited when they meet us to see the whales and learn about them,” Sue Mathis said. “What we do is educate people about the whales, where they’re from and what they do because sometimes they’re just not visible.”
“The funniest question I’ve ever had anyone ask is what do I do with the whales at night,” Steven said. “I was stunned and didn’t know exactly how to answer that. This isn’t just some sideshow. These are actual animals out there doing what they do.”
To learn more about While Watching Spoken Here and gray whales you can visit www.whalespoken.wordpress.com.