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Whale Watching in Pacific City
Favorite activity on the Oregon Coast

A huge creature the size of a city bus emerges from the rolling waves and with a loud swoosh, exhales a steamy breath of air.  It's a gray whale making one of the most remarkable migrations in the natural world, a scene which can be observed each winter along the Northwest coast.

Each winter, more than 20,000 gray whales can be observed along the Northwest coast as they make their way south on part of their incredible 12,000 mile annual round trip migration from the northern waters off Alaska and the Arctic Sea to their winter breeding grounds of Baja California off Mexico.

The lucky whale watcher who catches the peak of the migration can watch spout after spout as the near offshore waters become a whale highway.  Mid-December through early January is typically the peak of the migration with as many as 30 whales per hour passing the coast.
Watching whales from shore is best from a high vantage point (such as Cape Kiwanda) on a calm day. Whales are spotted by watching for their spout as they surface.  When a whale surfaces, it exhales a burst of water and vapor up to 12 feet in the air.  If the ocean is too rough, it's difficult to tell a whale from a breaking wave. (Another great location for viewing is nearby Cape Lookout)

Once a spout is spotted, focus with binoculars slightly ahead to watch them surface again.  Gray whales typically exhale three to five times, less than a minute apart, before diving for five to ten minutes.  Mothers with calves are often easiest to spot because they move more slowly and stay closer to shore. Once you've got the hang of it, it becomes easier to spot the giant 35 ton creatures.

Rarely will you see more than the spout and the back of the whale roll out of the water.  If the whale is preparing for a deep dive, you may see it's tail come out of the water.  Occasionally, gray whales will breach, coming head first out of the water as much as three quarters of their length before splashing back on their sides. They may also be seen raising their head and eye out of the water for as long as 30 seconds in a behavior known as "spy-hopping".

If you miss the winter migration, you won't have to wait long for another opportunity. Upon reaching their wintering grounds in the warm waters off Mexico, the gray whales breed or give birth, and by March they begin their return to the north along with their newborn calves, just a few months old.


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