Whale Watching on the Oregon Coast
It’s shaping up to be a delightful springtime season for keeping tabs on the giant migration along Oregon’s coast. Some people go the extra mile to teach you more about Oregon’s wildlife legacy.
Gloria and Alan Koch set up what amounts to an outdoor classroom to teach the people who stop in at Boiler Bay State Scenic Viewpoint. It’s a good place for visitor’s to stop in for a lesson and it is hard to miss because the “Whale Watch Spoken Here” sign rests alongside Coastal Highway 101.
“We are here because we love the whales,” noted Gloria Koch who added that she and Alan have been “teachers in residence” as Boiler Bay whale watch volunteers for the past seven spring seasons.
Gloria added that their stay during whale watch week is a teaching tradition they never miss because, “We are real advocates for the whales… and it’s only when you understand and appreciate an animal that you will do something to help that animal survive on this earth.”
It is the size of the gray whales that capture our imaginations! As big as a bus and yet they glide through the water with a certain smoothness and ease.
There is so much to admire about the gray whales long distance romance. Consider their journey! It’s a round trip of more than twelve thousand miles from the Arctic to Baja birthing grounds and now – in late March, they are swimming back home to the Arctic again.
When the weather is too foul to watch for them outdoors, you can duck indoors at nearby Depoe Bay and learn even more. Morris Grover, manager of Oregon State Park’s Whale Watch Center said it is a place that’s like a gateway to understanding the giants of the deep.
He said that thousands of people from all over the world travel to Oregon in the spring just to see the gray whales – hundreds of visitors will stop in at the center each week – an unassuming building that is perched just above the ocean breakers in the center of town.
“We have artifacts of all sort: skeletons of seals, sea lions, plus short movies about different kinds of whales. The gray whales are actually doing very well – we think there are about 19,000 right now, so it’s a very healthy herd.
They are one of the great recovery stories since they were removed from the Federal Endangered Species List.”
On of the most effective ways that Oregon State Parks shares information with coastal visitors is the “Whale Watch Spoken Here” program.
It is now 36 years old and it can be found at 28 different sites along the Oregon coast during spring break vacation.
There are more than 500 volunteers like Bill and Theda Hastie, who do their duty each day to put people in touch with the experience of whale watching.
The Hastie’s enjoy Cape Meares State Scenic Viewpoint in Tillamook County; both agree it is a grand place to see and learn more about the giant mammals.
Bill offered this whale-watching tip: “If you want to see whales, it’s good to do it in the morning when the sunlight is behind you. That’s the best time to see them. The simplest technique for locating the whales in the water is to watch for their spouts, the blow of air and water that the giants exhale before taking another breath and slipping below the surface”
That’s where the phrase “Thar she blows” originates. The calmer the water, the easier it will be for you to see the spouts.
Here’s a tip I learned many years ago from one of the whale-watch volunteers from the Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport: try to see the big picture by scanning the ocean with your eyes rather than jumping from one spot to another. If you use your vision like it’s set for a wide-screen format, you’ll see the blow better than you will by using binoculars to bring the view closer.
Also, when talking with others in a group try to find a common language for distance or location so everyone can enjoy the show. There’s nothing more frustrating than hearing “I see it!” and you haven’t a clue where to look.
I use my fingers! That is, when I spy a whale on the sea, I’ll raise my hand horizontally to the distant horizon, count the number of finger widths from that line to the whale, and tell others to do the same. It really works!
Back at Boiler Bay, volunteer Alan Koch said that he’s been through an incredible training program to teach whale biology, natural history and the problems the gray giants face in the ocean.
“Pollution of our water is number one,” said Koch, “whether it’s an oil spill, or dumping our garbage in the ocean, it all affects all the animals. Truth is, it affects us too because we eat food from the sea. If we pollute the sea it’s going to hurt us.”
Morris Grover agreed: “People are very concerned about those issues today! The fact that we’ve got these big animals right in our backyard, and the fact that they’ve come back from virtual extinction is something visitors appreciate and respect.”
Editor’s Note: Grant’s Getaways is a production of Travel Oregon brought to you in association with Oregon State Parks, Oregon Dept. of Fish & Wildlife and Oregon State Marine Board. Episodes air Fridays and Saturdays on KGW Newschannel 8 and Saturdays on Northwest Cable News Network.
About the Author: Grant McOmie
Grant McOmie is a Pacific Northwest broadcast journalist, teacher and author who writes and produces stories and special programs about the people, places, outdoor activities and environmental issues of the Pacific Northwest. A fifth generation Oregon native, Grant’s roots run deepest in the central Oregon region near Prineville and Redmond where his family continues to live.