Many people love to come to Oregon in the winter solely for the dramatic wave action and winter storms. Yet winter storms are not the only thing that draws the crowds to our shoreline. Gray whales, which migrate farther than any mammal on Earth, can also be observed here.
Whale watching takes place almost year-round on the Oregon Coast but the winter is a particularly good time as viewing peaks in early spring. No matter where you choose to catch a glimpse of these amazing animals, volunteers all along the coast are eager to answer questions and share their knowledge with you.
Check out my earlier post detailing Great Spots to Watch Oregon’s Winter Storms.
Each winter in the warm waters of Mexico, gray whales give birth, nurse their calves, rest and play before their long journey north in spring. They swim 5,000 miles along the Pacific coast from Mexico to the waters of the Arctic. The trip ends in the nutrient-rich feeding grounds of the Bering Sea in Alaska. In fall, they travel back to Mexico again to complete a round trip annual journey of 10,000 miles.
We enjoyed a little weekend getaway this past weekend, driving north along Highway 101 to Newport. We stopped at numerous scenic points along the way to observe the waves crashing on rocky shoreline. In Depoe Bay, we visited with the Oregon Parks and Recreation volunteers who helped us to spot the gray whales migrating offshore.
The first phase (non-calves) of the northbound gray whale migration appears to have peaked and the second phase (moms with babies) is just beginning – just in time for Spring Whale Watch Week, March 23-29, 2019.
Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, the Whale Watching Center in Depoe Bay was constructed during the postwar period designed to serve the rapidly increasing ranks of the motoring public, while taking advantage of a unique scenic vista—the world’s smallest navigable harbor at Depoe Bay.
While here, we also took time to enjoy the touch tables and pictorial history inside the center. What fascinated me most was the whale ear bone pictured here. In land mammals, the fleshy pinna or the outside part of the ear helps collect sound and funnel it into the ear. That works because the acoustical properties of the air and flesh are different, so sound gets channeled into the ear canal where it vibrates the eardrum and the ossicles (or ear bones).
In water, the acoustical properties of flesh and water are pretty similar, therefore the fleshy outside part of the ear serves no function. Though hearing in baleen whales is not well understood, in toothed whales, instead of sound coming in through the ear canal, sound comes in through fatty tissues in the jaws which are attached to an acoustic funnel. Scientists believe that the ossicles vibrate this fluid-filled inner ear.
Baleen whales like the Grey Whale do not have teeth, instead they have 130 to 180 baleen plates that hang down each side of their upper jaws, like a fringed curtain. The plates are made out of fingernail-like material called keratin, the same substance found in human fingernails and hair. It makes the baleen strong, but still flexible.
Baleen is a filter-feeder system inside the mouths of baleen whales. The baleen system works when a whale opens its mouth underwater and the whale takes in water. The whale then pushes the water out, and animals such as krill are filtered by the baleen and remain as food source for the whale.
Inside the center, there was also a display that discussed how man has hunted the whale in the past for oil and baleen. It provided a fascinating reflection of how man has impacted our natural resources and how times have changed.
Cetaceans have captivated the human imagination for centuries. Kelsey Oseid explores the most interesting and illuminating facts about these marine mammals in her book, Whales: An Illustrated Celebration. Her guide dives into their mysterious evolution (from land to water mammals), their place in mythology, and their ecology, habitats, and behaviors. It also covers the current state of wild and captive cetaceans worldwide, why we should care, and what we – as individuals – can do to help.This book is perfect for all ages.
More advanced readers will want to consider Spying on Whales: The Past, Present, and Future of Earth’s Most Awesome Creatures written by Nick Pyensen. This acclaimed author is the curator of fossil marine mammals at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. His book explains these marvelous creatures – feeding, migrating, their interactions with one another, and so much more. Using old-fashioned tools as well as radio trackers, 3D laser scans, and drones, Pyenson takes us on an epic adventure through the eyes of a paleobiologist. I highly recommend this book for high school students and those interested in ethology.
Whale Watching Sites
Beginning north and traveling south along highway 101, the following locations are excellent view points from which to watch for whales.
- Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center, Cape Disappointment State Park
- Neahkahnie Mountain, south of Cannon Beach
- Cape Meares State Park
- Boiler Bay State Scenic Viewpoint
- The Whale Watching Center, Depoe Bay
- Cape Foulweather
- Cape Perpetua Stone Shelter
- Sea Lion Caves Viewpoint
- Umpqua River Whale Watching Station
- Shore Acres State Park
- Cape Arago State Park
- Face Rock State Park
- Battle Rock Wayfinding Point
- Cape Sebastian
- Klamath Overlook
Whales are not the only wildlife one can observe here at the Whale Watching Center. In addition to the whales we glimpsed with spotting scopes, we also observed the following wildlife at wayside viewing center:
- Black Oystercatcher Haematopus bachmani
- Black Turnstone Arenaria melanocephala
- Pelagic Cormorant Phalacrocorax pelagicus
- Several species of gulls
- Belding Ground Squirrel (Spermophilus beldingi), I believe
Welcome to the Nature Book Club Monthly Link Up. Devoted to connecting children to nature, the monthly link up will begin on the 20th day of each month. We welcome your nature book and activity related links. Read on for more details.
The Nature Book Club is brought to you by these nature loving bloggers which are your co-hosts. Are you following them? If you don’t want to miss anything, be sure to follow each one.
Here are the co-hosts, their choices of books, and activities for January 2019:
Whale Watching on the Oregon Coast by me here at Eva Varga
Dachelle at Hide the Chocolate shares a Winter Tinker Kit
Emily has put together a fun Winter Scavenger Hunt at Table Life Blog
Hibernating Animals is the focus of Karyn’s post at Teach Beside Me
Erika at The Playful Scholar shares a fun, Hibernate or Migrate, Early Learning Game
Choose an engaging nature book, do a craft or activity, and add your post to our monthly link up.
The link up party goes live at 9:00 a.m. EST on the 20th of each month and stays open until 11:59 p.m. EST on the last day of the month. Hurry to add your links!
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