FLORENCE – California gray whales can live to be 70 years old, can grow to nearly 50 feet and adults can weigh 60,000 pounds.
Gray whales can dive 500 feet and are able to stay underwater for 30 minutes or more. Their annual migration covers about 12,000 miles. Photo courtesy of the NOAA Fisheries.
The view of the Eastern Pacific is stunning from the Heceta Head Lighthouse and it’s one of the best places to whale watch in Lane County. More information About Heceta Lighthouse can be found at this link.
One of the wonderful things about living in Oregon, particularly for those of us who love seeing wildlife in the wild, are all the species of animals that either call Oregon home, or are part of one of the many great migrations that pass our state. Our abundance of wildlife also Includes many species of seals and other marine mammals not so easily seen like the whales that also swim past Oregon a couple of times each year, traveling the Pacific from Alaska to Mexico.
Among the grandest and certainly the largest of these migrating mammals is the California Gray Whale. That for about the next 30 days will be swimming past our shore as they migrate to isolated bays and coves in Mexico for the winter.
Per Covid, the state of Oregon would coordinate a massive volunteer effort in what they called “Whale Watching Week.” Helpful volunteer guides were stationed at many coastal overlooks and the event attracted large groups of visitors from the Willamette Valley. Gone this season is the promotion and the big volunteer effort. But many state parks on the coast are still open for day use. And of course the whales are here too, just like they have been for thousands of years.
There are several locations on the Lane County coast where you can easily obtain a view of the Eastern Pacific Ocean. For the Chronicle in 2019 I wrote about the history of the Heceta Head Lighthouse and would rank the view as one of the finest on the coast. At the lighthouse level their protective barriers and the parking lot restrooms have been available and open to the public. Bring drinking water, snacks, hand sanitizer and your mask.
With a little patience, for about the next thirty days the chance of seeing one of the 20,000 gray whales that will pass, breaching the ocean’s surface or the “blow” they exhale upon surfacing, is pretty good. Some people come equipped with binoculars or game spotting scope to bring things closer. But from my experience, whale behaviors often happen quickly and most spotting devices actually narrow your field of vision.
I find that scanning the sea with the naked eye may make everything appear much smaller but may be a better way of sighting a whale in migration with the wider angle of your natural eyesight.
The gray whales are currently migrating south but will return in early April on their northern migration -- presenting another chance to view one of these magnificent marine mammals in the wild.