DEPOE BAY, Ore. (KMTR) - NewsSource 16's Joel Porter heads to Depoe Bay on a whale watching excursion hoping to see a few gray whales up close.
Imagine going on a 2,000 mile food run at just four miles an hour and keep in mind you recently had a baby. That's the voyage gray whales are taking right now. They're migrating from Mexico to Alaska.
No coincidence that whale watching week begins this weekend in Oregon. There are more than a dozen whale watching sites along the coast where you can see them. If you're willing to get up early and head west, you can find Oregon's whale watching capital all in a day's drive.
On a sunny spring day, Depoe Bay draws in dozens of tourists hoping to get a glimpse of a gray whale.
“If you're lucky, you get to see a fluke - their tail - where they're going down for a deeper dive or a breach,” park ranger Ian Fawley said. “But most of the time, you see their blows.”
“The blow comes out at 200 miles per hour and it'll go six to twelve feet [high],” whale researcher Carrie Newell said.
There's no shortage of whale experts in Depoe Bay willing to share knowledge and even take you out on the water.
“That's a totally different experience, seeing it in person,” tourist Caleb Phillips said. He and his wife are visiting Oregon from Birmingham, Alabama.
This particular group is serenaded by a raft of sea lions, lounging on the buoy a mile off shore.
“Be patient. I usually tell folks when they come out to the ocean, if you don't see a whale, at least you get to see the ocean,” Fawley said. “Beautiful crashing waves. Just wait for the whales to come. They're kind of on their own schedule.”
“They go a very fast four miles an hour,” Newell said.
As the whales take their sweet time getting to Alaska, Oregon sightings at the end of March become more and more frequent.
“You could hear the inhalation of the whales and see the spray come out from their blow [holes]. That was incredible,” Caleb’s wife Ann Summerall Phillips said.
Whale guide Carrie Newell also operates the only whale museum in the state.
With the help of an alert canine, this group of watchers witnesses numerous blows and flukes within an hour.
"Some people start crying. Some people start screaming,” Newell said. “Some people are dead silent. You get all kinds of reactions, because they're so massive and so mysterious.”
Elusive, yes, but not invisible. Fawley says a little planning can help increase your chances of a successful whale watching trip. Mornings mean better light and typically calmer waters.
Whale watching tours run about $40 per person for an hour-and-a-half boat ride. Guides say there are several resident whales that remain in Depoe Bay for months.