Spring 2020 Whale Watch Update
No volunteers will be stationed for the spring Whale Watch Week, set March 21-29, to help slow the spread of COVID-19. Additionally, no binoculars will be available. Oregon State Parks made this decision to protect the health and safety of our volunteers and visitors. However, you can still enjoy this spring break tradition on your own.
The spring whale migration kicks off with a surge in late March and continues through May. An estimated 25,000 Gray whales swim past Oregon’s coastline, bound for cooler Alaskan waters. Many whales will have their new calves in tow, born earlier this year in the whales’ winter hideout off the coast of Mexico.
Oregon State Parks is following the COVID-19 precautions set by Governor Kate Brown and the Oregon Health Authority. When looking for whales, we advise visitors should:
- Refrain from sharing your binoculars or other viewing devices, and disinfect them between uses.
- Wash your hands (many state parks have day-use restrooms you can use) or use hand sanitizer frequently.
- Keep a distance of at least three feet between you and other whale watchers.
- Most important: if you’re feeling sick, stay home.
Opting out? You can still participate in some virtual whale watching. We will live stream from Depoe Bay on the Oregon State Parks YouTube channel daily March 21-29.
What to expect during the spring whale watch season.
The video below shows what an excellent day of spring whale watching is like. Calm ocean and blue sky! There are actually 4 whales spotted in this video! Remember, weather plays a huge factor in whale watching success, keep an eye on the forecast and good luck!
Gray whales are visible from Oregon’s shore nearly year-round, but two weeks every year are special! The winter and spring Whale Watch Weeks along the Oregon coast are recognized as some of the best opportunities to view the annual gray whale migration anywhere in the world. Join us as we watch around 20,000 gray whales swim along our shores!
Our volunteers come from throughout the United States and spread out across 24 sites up and down the Oregon coast to help people see and learn about these magnificent ocean travelers. Last year more than 51,000 visitors were educated by our volunteers in just 14 days!
In 1978 Don Giles of the Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport headed out to Yaquina Head Lighthouse with his binoculars and a great idea. Colleagues Bruce Mate and Denise Herzing were counting gray whales migrating past Yaquina Head. They confirmed what Don and others intuitively knew: Gray whale migrations along the Oregon coast peak during two special times of the year. The southbound migration happens during the winter holiday season, and the northbound has one of its two peaks near the end of March.
This knowledge motivated Don to create the Whale Watching Spoken Here® program. Since 1978, it has grown to become one of the most organized onshore whale watching programs in the United States.
Reasons for Success:
Location: Thanks to the 1967 Beach Bill, public access is protected along virtually the entire Oregon coastline. In addition, most of the whale watching locations are located in or near state parks.
Abundant whales: Researchers estimate that 18,000-plus gray whales now live in the eastern north Pacific area. About 30 whales per hour migrate past the Oregon coast during the peak southbound migration. By comparison, six per hour pass by on the northbound trip, but that return trip is spread over four months. Some 200-plus of these whales drop off the migration route and feed along the Oregon coast all summer.
Timing: The migrations peaks coincide nicely with times when many visitors are able to visit the coast. Since the main emphasis is on volunteers meeting and greeting visitors interested in whale watching, Don Giles and another colleague, Bev Lund, coined the phrase, “Whale Watching Spoken Here.”
Volunteers: We have had the joy to work with thousands of volunteers since the programs inception. Today we are thankful to have over 300 active volunteers that make this effort possible.