Whale Watching on the Oregon Coast

Posted on: September 06, 2012

Whale watching is a year-round activity on the Oregon Coast with gray whales by far the most commonly seen. Whale watching is not difficult, but a few tips make it easier. Any location with an ocean view may yield whale sightings, and morning light with the sun at your back is best. First locate whale spouts with your naked eye; then focus more closely with binoculars. A great way to view Whales is from the comfort of an oceanfront chair. For an even closer view, try whale watching from a charter boat. And some people prefer the view from above—from an airplane or helicopter. Both charter boats and air services are available (and listed below). And, of course, calmer days are best, whether by land, sea, or air

Gray Whale Migration
Gray whales migrate South from their feeding grounds in the Bering and Chukchi seas around Alaska from mid-December through January. They are heading to their breeding grounds in Baja California, Mexico, where warm-water lagoons become nurseries for expectant mothers. Then from late March to June the whales migrate North back to Alaska. On each trip, approximately 18,000 gray whales pass close to the Oregon Coast.
On the trip down, these giant mammals head South on a direct course, move quickly, and stay within 5 miles offshore making for great viewing. At their peak, about 30 whales pass by each hour. Coming back, the whales travel much more leisurely and stay much closer to shore—within a hundred yards is not unusual. The non-breeding males and females lead the way back with some early birds starting in late February. They may even pass stragglers still heading south. The northward migration continues at a slower pace and mothers with young don’t usually appear until May.

Resident Gray Whales in Summer
About half of the gray whales do not continue on to Alaskan waters but stay off the coast of Oregon between June and November. These part-time residents number about 2000. About 600 whales are seen repeatedly off the central coast in the Lincoln City area and have been photographed and identified. Of these, about 800 hang out between Lincoln City and Newport each year because that seems to be what the food supply will support.