Whale Watching in Oregon
Whale watching takes place almost year-round on the Oregon Coast. We watch whales
in the winter from mid-December through January. Spring watching begins in March with a peak
in numbers the last week and finishes in June with mothers and babies being the last whales
traveling north. Summer brings whales that feed along our coast from July to mid-November.
While gray whales are most often spotted, but others seen include Minke, Humpback,
Blue, and Sperm whales. Orcas, the largest of the dolphins, are also seen in Oregon.
During the week of December 26 to January 1 whale migration can be
viewed from Cape Sebastian just seven miles south of Turtle Rock Resort
in Gold Beach during whale watching weeks. Trained volunteers are posted
at good sighting spots to help visitors see the whales who will be
heading to Mexico to calve. The volunteers return March 23rd to March
30th during Spring migration. The whales return north with the young
whales during Spring break.
There are always whales to be seen off the southern Oregon coast but
during the two main migrations an average of 29 whales per hour travel
Diving and Feeding Habits:
Learning the diving and feeding habits of whales will help you to
predict how often and where they may surface. Click on the image below
for a Virtual Tour learning experience, and to see some of the
favorite whale-watching areas near Gold Beach.
"The Blow" Gray whales usually surface every 45 seconds as they swim, but will often stay under for 3 to 5 minutes when they are eating. If they have
been down for 5 minutes they usually blow 5 times when they surface to replenish their oxygen supply. If they are frightened they can stay
down for 30 minutes, hiding on the bottom or traveling great distances. Sometimes they dive and reappear 1/4 mile away. The blow or spout
shoots nearly 12 feet high expelling 400 liters of air in a single blast.
"The Breach" The ultimate in whale sightings is a breach - when a whale launches as much as 3/4 of its body out of the water in a spectacular show of
power and grace. Scientists are not sure why whales breach. Possibly they do it to remove parasites, communicate with each other, or maybe it is just for fun. Gray whales are not known for breaching nearly as often as their cousins, the humpback whales, but young Grays seem to be the most common breachers along the Oregon Coast.
"The Skyhop" Whales have the largest brain of any animal on earth. They are very intelligent and curious, often seen spyhopping, or lifting their
heads above the surface of the water. They like to rise out of the water to get a better sense of their surroundings. Resident Gray whales have been known to spyhop regularly, especially when local tour boats are near. Behaviors like this make many wonder if the whales enjoy watching us as much as we enjoy watching them.
"The Dive" A deep dive, also known as sounding or fluking, happens when a whale lifts its tail flukes out of the water. This helps propel the whale downward at a steep angle to the bottom, where they feed on small crustaceans. After the flukes disappear under the water, the turbulence of the dive will cause a circle of smooth water, known as a fluke-print.
Learning the diving and feeding habits of whales will help you to predict how often and where they may surface.
Cape Blanco is 37 miles north of Gold Beach
Cape Sebastian is located on Oregon's South Coast, seven miles south of Gold Beach.
Cape Ferrelo (Lone Ranch Wayside) is 23 miles south of Gold Beach.
Harris Beach State Park is 26 miles south of Gold Beach.
Whale Watching Tips:
For year-round whale watchers and those watching for the first time, here are a few whale watching tips.
Gray Whale Facts:
- Gray whales may possibly be seen year-round on the Oregon, Washington and northern California coastlines.
- Winter migration has the highest numbers (30 per hour) but the whales are usually farther off shore (1-5 miles) because of stormy weather.
- During the spring migration (northbound), the whales are more spread out (6 per hour) but they are closer to shore (1/2 - 3 miles), sometimes stopping to eat.
- Summer feeding whales are very close to shore and eat tiny mysid shrimp that live in the kelp beds. They may feed for hours in the same location.
- Bring your binoculars and dress for the weather. Focus your binoculars and have them ready, but watch with your eyes. When you locate a blow, then bring up your binoculars for a closer look.
- Learn the diving and feeding habits of the whales so you will know how often and where they may surface.
- Morning light (with the sun at your back) is often helpful for spotting blows. Afternoon light reflects off the water and makes viewing difficult.
- Calmer days are better whale watching days, by land, sea or air.
- Any spot with an ocean view may yield whale sightings, but higher locations are generally better than sandy beaches.
Whale Calves Facts:
- Gray Whales are noted for their 12,000-mile annual migration from the Arctic Ocean to Mexico in the winter and their return north in the
spring. Whalers nicknamed the Grays "Devil Fish" because they fought so hard to defend their babies. Today, they are best known for being friendly to people.
- In the 1600-1700s Gray Whales in the Atlantic were hunted to extinction. They were hunted almost to extinction two different times in the Pacific Ocean. Starting early in the 1900s, the birthing lagoons were protected by the Mexican government. The United Nations joined in the protection (1935), as did the International Whaling Commission (1946), but the moratorium against whaling wasn't started until 1986. The Grays made a good recovery and were taken off the endangered list in 1994, but are still threatened.
- Gray Whales along the Western Pacific (Russia & Japan) are almost extinct, and Japan is leading other nations to restart commercial
- The purpose for the migration south is primarily to breed and to give birth to their young in the warm, calm bays of Mexico. Gray Whale babies are 15 feet long and weigh 2,000 at birth. They grow up to 45 feet long and weigh 70,000 pounds.
- They return north and spend the summer feeding in the Bering and Chukchi Seas, seldom eating during migration. About 400 Gray Whales don't continue to Alaska, but stay along the Oregon Coast to feed.
- Grays have baleen plates instead of teeth, with 130-180 plates or pieces along each side of the upper jaw. They take great mouthfuls of food-laden water; then using their tongues, they squeeze out the water and swallow the food that sticks to the baleen.The Oregon coast produces lots of phytoplankton (small marine plants) which are eaten by zooplankton (small marine animals) including bottom dwelling amphipods and mysid shrimp - primary food of the Gray Whales.
- The only natural predators of Gray Whales are Orcas (killer whales) and large sharks. Even though some countries are still whaling, the
biggest threat to the whales is pollution in the oceans.
- Born without a blubber layer, babies need warmer waters.
- Mothers bear calves about every 2-3 years.
- Gestation period averages 12 months (Sperm whale 17 months).
- Pregnancy is telescopic - babies double their size the last 2 months.
- Babies average 15 feet long at birth (Blue whale 26 feet).
- Baby whales are born tail first.
- Calves weigh about 2,000 pounds at birth (Blue whale 8,000 pounds).
- Babies must surface and catch their first breath within 15 seconds.
- Within 30 minutes, babies learn to swim.
- Babies nurse frequently on rich milk - 50-60 percent butterfat.
- Babies don't suck, the mother pumps milk into its mouth.
- Calves put on as much as 9 pounds an hour.
- Mothers lose 1/3 of their weight while nursing.