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Gray whales to begin migration along Oregon coast

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  • Gray-Whale-Fluke-for-Bens-Whale-Story-1.jpg?fit=500%2C500
    A gray whale goes for a deep dive. Photo provided by Sam Beebe, Ecotrust/flickr.

As college students begin their spring break vacations, thousands of gray whales will be making their way up the Oregon coast to reach their Arctic feeding grounds, according to the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department’s website. The whales make this trip every year from late March to June from the warm waters around Baja Mexico. They will return south in December and January.

“They travel over 12 thousand miles every year doing this migration, and to cross paths and get up close and personal with one of these animals, you realize they are an amazing creature that lives a life totally unknown to us, and for a brief moment you’re crossing paths. It’s really special,” said Luke Parsons, Park Ranger at the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department.

Volunteers and whale watchers will be flocking to the coast to catch a glimpse of the majestic animals.

The end of December and spring break, the two best times to see whales at a wide variety of locations along the Oregon coast, have been designated “Whale Watch Weeks.” However, spotting whales can sometimes be difficult for amateur whale watchers.

Whale Watching Spoken Here, a volunteer organization dedicated to observing whales off our coast, will have volunteers at 24 locations to assist visitors with spotting whales. They will be there from March 25 to March 31 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. The three closest locations to UCC are Shore Acres State Park near Coos Bay, Face Rock State Scenic Viewpoint in Bandon, and Umpqua Lighthouse State Park near Reedsport.

“These naturalists are trained to spot whales, know the species, and will be recording how many they see each day. Even if you don’t get lucky and spot a whale, the naturalists can help you see lots of other special marine animals such as pelagic birds, seals and sea lions,” said Melissa Janicek, Marine Naturalist for The American Cetacean Society, in an email interview.

UCC student Brooklyn Borges, who visited the Yaquina Lighthouse during the end-of-year Whale Watch Week, said about her experience, “We saw about a half dozen surface for air. It was pretty cool.”

Whales are often seen when they surface to take a breath before a dive. Whale watchers may also see a tailfin before a deep dive or a head peeking out from under the water to get a look around. If whale watchers get lucky, they might see a whale breach the water and crash down with a thunderous splash.

Melissa Janicek described the feelings that first time whale watchers often display, “People of all ages just get this look of amazement and disbelief in their eyes that they are seeing this 45 foot long, 35 ton animal in real life. People yell, scream and even cry the first time they spot a whale. I love helping people achieve that sense of wonder and happiness.”

Those who can’t make it out during Whale Watch Week may still be able to see whales as they continue their migration through June. Also, about 200 gray whales will halt their journey and remain along the Oregon coast to feed during the summer. One place to observe these resident whales is at the Depoe Bay Whale Watching Center, which is staffed by the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department.

For more information on Whale Watch Week, visit http://www.whalespoken.org .

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