DEPOE BAY - The first gray whales heading northward on their annual spring migration have already been spotted from the Oregon State Parks Whale Watching Center in Depoe Bay.
Many more gray whales will be migrating soon - just in time for the upcoming Spring Whale Watching Week, which starts Saturday, March 23 and runs through Saturday, March 30. Migrating gray whale numbers usually peak about the last week in March - conveniently coinciding with many of the area schools' spring breaks.
More than 200 trained volunteers will be at 24 "Whale Watching Spoken Here" sites from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. during the week. They will be there to answer questions and share tips about spotting some of the 18,000 gray whales cruising north from their breeding grounds on Mexico's Baja coast to their summer feeding grounds in the Bering and Chukchi Seas.
Visitors wishing to spot some of these passing giants should come to the coast with binoculars and rain gear and seek out the "Whale Watching Spoken Here" signs at any of the 24 viewpoints. This time of year, most of the whales can be spotted about 1-3 miles off shore, but whale watchers can also check in closer for the occasional whale searching for food or for an early mother and calf. Clear days with calm wind and seas make it easier to spot the whales.
Visitors can find additional information and viewing guidance from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day of the Spring Whale Watching Week at the OPRD Whale Watching Center in Depoe Bay. The Oregon State University Hatfield Marine Science Center in nearby Newport also offers daily programming, including 30-minute whale skeleton tours and marine mammal presentations.
Maps of the "Whale Watching Spoken Here" viewpoints, information on charter boat and airplane tours, and whale watching tips are online at http://www.whalespoken.org.
If whale fans can't make it to the coast during Spring Whale Watching Week, they should not lose hope: the Depoe Bay Whale Watching Center usually spots gray whales along the coast year-round.
The Oregon Parks and Recreation Department coordinates Whale Watching Weeks with support from the Hatfield Marine Science Center.