Going Gray

Grab the binoculars, there’s a herd of whales coming!

December 18, 2009

Santa’s not the only one making the long trek down from the polar north next week. Late December and January is whale migration season in the Northwest.

During the next month or so up to 18,000 gray whales and more than 1,000 humpback whales will lumber past Oregon coast on their journey from Alaska to their birthing waters off the Baja Peninsula.

These mammoth animals typical travel about 5 miles off shore, but sometimes range as close as 1 to 2 miles, making sightings easier to come by. But if you’re really looking to take advantage of the water-born cattle call, try checking out one of the Oregon State Park’s Whale Spoken Here sites.

From December 26 to January 1 trained volunteers will be on hand at 26 spots up and down the Oregon, Washington, and California coasts, telling visitors what to look for on the horizon as well to help answer any nagging biological quandaries you might have, such as, “How often do mama gray whales give birth, anyway?” Which if the Muddy Boot was there, I’d snap right back, “Why every 2 or 3 years, of course.”

But, since I’m headed out of town for a holiday visit with the in-laws, I’ll impart this bit of wisdom instead: the 5 closest Whale Spoken Here sites to Portland are Ecola State Park, the Neahkanie Mountain Historic Marker (look for the turnout on Highway 101), Cape Meares State Scenic Viewpoint, Cape Lookout State Park, and Cape Kiwanda.

So which one of those places will give you the best odds for spotting one of the gentle giants? Well, according to the parks’ department data, Cape Lookout and Cape Meares were last year’s hotspots with 20 and 59 whale sightings, respectively.

For anyone leery of crowds, it’s worth pointing out though that during that same week, Cape Meares logged 389 whale-peeping visitors, while Cape Lookout tallied only 60. That might have something to do with the fact that it’s a 2.5 mile hike to Cape Lookout’s rocky, ocean-scoping perch vs. just being able to drive up to Cape Meares.

While there’s no guarantee of spotting a whale at either cape, if you decide to strike out for the tip of Cape Lookout, you’ll also find yourself on one of the Oregon coast’s most spectacular outings, making it a win-win in my book.

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