Whales in Newport
As if the joys of this run of great weather on the coast aren't enough, there is also an abundance of whale sightings up and down the central coast, throughout Lincoln County. Officials at the Whale Watch Center in Depoe Bay are reporting an average of 6 to 20 whale sightings each day, an astounding number for this time of year.
Luke Parsons, whale expert and the head ranger with Oregon State Parks and Recreation's (OPRD) Whale Spoken Here Program, said these steady numbers seem to be holding true around the rest of this part of the coastline, which includes Yachats, Newport, Depoe Bay, Gleneden Beach and Lincoln City.
It's mostly gray whales, Parsons said, but some other types have been spotted as well.
“Last month we had a group of Bottlenose whales come through, and the Orcas were here for four or five days,” he said. “We're definitely gearing up for another good summer of whale watching.”
Parsons said it all started back during March's Whale Watch Week. The numbers were good then as the grays slowly swam their way up to feeding grounds closer to Alaska, and with a generally good run of weather conditions they seem to be sticking around.
“We had a very busy and successful spring whale watch week, and it's just really kind'a continued on,” Parsons said. “We definitely have our summertime resident whales along the central Oregon coast, and we're seeing 6 to 20 a day, as long as the weather allows.”
Even better news: a good rule of thumb is that the whale tour boats are seeing even more than people do onshore. Newport and Depoe Bay have about a dozen whale tour companies between them.
The biggest factor is most in these sighting numbers is often the weather. If seas are rough and it's windy, the whale steer clear of near-shore activity. Large waves also create big gullies that makes the whales hard to see.
Every year, there are what officials call the “resident whales” along the central coast, attracted to this area because of lots of krill and mycid shrimp. The waters are full of thick kelp forests, where the drill and shrimp live. Gray whales chomp on about 500 pounds to 2,000 pounds of the tiny creatures every day.
There have been a lot of social media posts of whales quite close to shore. OPRD has some stunning video of just this kind of recent whale activity.
Sometimes when these close encounters happen, a whale will do a maneuver called a spyhop, where they pop out of the water and then flop back in again, mostly to take a look around them. Parsons, along with many boat tour operators, believe this is when a real connection can happen.
“There have been a few occasions when they spyhop in front of the visitor center, and I'm pretty sure they're staring right at us,” he said. “I do think they're curious. Especially the young ones.”
Video clips courtesy Oregon Parks and Recreation (OPRD). First clip: whale breaching on June 7. Second and third clips: various whale activity in front of Whale Watch Center.Download Video