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An estimated 25,000 Gray whales swim past Oregon’s coastline each spring, looking for colder water in Alaska. Many whales will be traveling with their calves, who were born earlier this year in the whales’ winter hideout off the coast of Mexico. Watch this footage of a whale breaching in the waters just off Depoe Bay. A breach is when a whale launches as much as three-fourths of its body out of the water in a spectacular show of power and grace. Learn more about the spring 2021 Whale Watch update.
Gray whales are the most commonly sighted whales on the Oregon coast. Their seasonal migration patterns bring more than 20,000 of them passed the coast each year.
There are four things to be on the lookout for when whale watching, according to Oregon Parks Department.
Gray whales usually surface every 20 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. The blow, or spout, shoots nearly 12 feet high and expels 400 liters of air in a single blast. The whales take a few breaths at the surface then dive again. If they are frightened, they can stay down for 30 minutes, hiding on the bottom or traveling great distances.
The ultimate in whale sightings is a breach. This is when a whale launches itself out of the water in a spectacular show of power and grace. Scientists aren’t sure why whales breach. Possibly they do it to remove parasites, communicate with each other, or maybe it’s just for fun. Gray whales aren’t known for breaching nearly as often as Humpback whales, but young Gray whales seem to be the most common breachers along the Oregon Coast.
Whales are intelligent and curious and are 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. During the summer, Gray whales have been known to spyhop regularly, especially when local tour boats are near. Perhaps this means the whales enjoy watching us as much as we enjoy watching them?
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 zooplankton and amphipods. After the flukes disappear under the water, the turbulence of the dive will cause a circle of smooth water, known as a fluke-print.
This video from Oregon State Parks and Recreation shows a spring day of whale watching in Depoe Bay. Can you spot the four whales in this short video? Weather plays a huge factor in whale watching success, so keep an eye on the forecast, and good luck!
What types of whales can you see off the Oregon coast
After Gray whales, Humpback whales are the second most common whale on the coast. The best time to spot them in August and September. April to June you may also see Orcas, also known as killer whales. The Oregon coast also has Minke whales, Blue whales, Sperm whales, Pacific white-sided dolphins, Bottlenose dolphins, Dall's porpoise, Harbor porpoise. You find interesting facts about all of them at the ODFW.