Every spring and fall thousands of people flock to the Oregon coast to watch the Pacific gray whales migrating to and from Baja.
Gray whales were once an endangered species, but protection measures have resulted in their removal from the endangered species list in 1994. The whales migrate each year, about 12,000 miles (19,311 km) round-trip, from northern waters off Alaska to the Gulf of California in Mexico, and back.
The pods usually stay close to land, generally from one-half mile to three miles (.8 km – 4.8 km) offshore. In the fall and winter, the groups of two to 10 individuals are led by pregnant females on their route south. The whales winter over in shallow Mexican waters where the mother whales give birth to their young. In late winter and early spring the whales head back north, where the young will feed and grow in the Bering and Chukchi seas.
Some gray whales take up year ’round residence in this area. The whales live on krill, a small shrimp-like creature, that inhabits the mud flats and kelp.
During the Christmas and spring school vacations, the Oregon Parks Department and the Oregon Division of Fish and Wildlife join private sponsors to conduct whale watching weeks. Volunteer interpreters are on hand from 10am to 1pm at locations on the coast to help the novices spot the whales. The best place to see the migration is from any elevated location in early morning, before the wind begins to blow is the best time to glimpse the shooting vapor the whales expurgate after a dive. Lucky viewers sometimes see them spy hopping (when they stick their heads out of the sea) or breaching (when the whale jumps out of the water and falls back in with a great splash.)
Upcoming Whale Watch Weeks
Winter: December 27-31, 2015
Spring: March 19-26, 2016
Explore our Tide Pooling and Whale Watching travel guide for all the information you need about local whale watching.
Good spots in Lincoln City for spotting whales are from Cascade Head, the Road’s End State Park, the bank at northwest 21st street, from the dining room or room balconies at the Inn at Spanish Head, the cliff a SW 40th St, or Boiler Bay (about 9 miles south of Lincoln City).
Many people prefer to see the great gray whale close up. Dockside Charters in Depoe Bay conduct regular whale-watching tours, when weather permits.