Annual Migration of the Gray Whales Along the Oregon Coast
Spot the mighty gray whales as the herd travels from Baja California, Mexico to the Bering Sea but remember your binoculars, and warm clothes as it is the Oregon Coast!
Gray Whale Annual Migration
In the winter months, Gray whales make their annual migration south to Baja California, Mexico, concluding their 10,000-mile roundtrip migration the next summer in the Bering Sea. The herd passes Oregon, southbound, the last week in December. This is the peak time to view the whales, seen at a rate of 30 per hour. On this leg of the journey, the whales swim furthest from shore, without stopping to eat. When they reach their southern destination, the mother cows give birth to their calves in the warm waters off Baja California, Mexico.
The herd then travels back to the north, the majority passing by the Oregon coast during Spring break, near the end of March. The whales are now closer, within 3 miles of shore, some taking time to eat along the way. The mothers and calves come along after the herd, following from April through June. Although the majority of gray whales make the long journey, a few hundred stays along the Oregon coast year-round, to feed. These whales are called “resident whales” and can be seen close to shore, along the coast. These whales remain until November when they join the rest of the herd traveling south.
Whale Watching Spoken Here
The Whale Watching Center in Depoe Bay, Oregon offers abundant information and brochures in relation to whale watching. “Whale Watching Spoken Here” signs can be seen during the Winter and Spring Breaks along the Oregon Coast. 28 sites from southern Washington to Northern California host whale watching volunteers ready to give watching advice and help spot whales during the mid-day hours.
Whale Watching Tips
Here are some tips suggested by whale watching experts and volunteers:
- Bring binoculars
- Wear warm clothes
- Watch from elevated locations
- Visit during the morning, when there is less reflection from the ocean
- Calm days offer more whale sightings, as there are fewer waves and whitecaps
- Look for a blow and follow the whale’s diving pattern. Whales can take up to 5 minutes between diving and surfacing.
- Get closer to the whales by taking a whale watching charter.
In 2006, the gray whale herd size was recorded to be more than 18,000 whales (Oregon Parks and Recreation Department, 2007). The species was lifted from the endangered species list in 1994, but remains as a threatened species, especially off the coast of Russia and Japan. Other whales that might be seen are Humpback, Sperm, Blue and Minke whales. Orcas can also be seen, following the calves, which they make an effort to feed on.