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Whale Watching Around The World Part 7

Updated on February 25, 2010

Watching from Shore

Most whale watchers in Oregon and Washington aren't in a boat or a plane. They're traveling Highway 101 along the coast and stopping at overlooks along the way. As a veteran of that stretch, I can assure you that virtually no matter where you pull over along that phenomenal 101 drive in Oregon, you can find a place to view the water and sit quietly... sooner or later you'll see some whales spouting in the distance. Whale watching further north in Washington is rather hit or miss, because the most accessible parts of the coast are also the flattest. Few points are high enough to allow you a good look at passing whales, even in spring when they may be a bit closer to land than they are in winter.

Washington has more than 60 miles of wilderness coastline from Kalaloch to Cape Flattery, part of Olympic National Park, as well as several small but fascinating Indian reservations where the residents' lives once revolved around the migration of gray whales. There are a few bluffs where you can look down on the ocean: Kalaloch has a lodge, cozy cabins, and a campground; Second Beach and Rialto Beach are next to La Push, home to the Quileute tribe, which has its own resort and rooms facing the breakers. Cape Flattery can be reached by hiking and camping along the beach, or by driving inland, turning toward the Strait of Juan de Fuca, then following the coast road to the Makah Reservation at Neah Bay. Cape Alava in Flattery Rocks National Refuge, Destruction Island overlook, Point Grenville, and North Head Light/Cape Disappointment are also good bets.

Ironically, perhaps, the best spot for whale watching on the Oregon coast may be one of the most accessible: the seawall in lively, touristy Depoe Bay right on U.S. 101 north of Newport. No one knows exactly why whale watching here is so good. It could be the deep water and proximity to the bay (gray whales tend to concentrate at bay and river mouths). But it's not unusual for tour boats cruising offshore to look back toward a pod of whales breaching and spouting just off the seawall, closer, in fact, to those standing on dry land than those in the boats.

Take a Bow

If there is even a slight chop on the water, the gray whales will not approach a boat. Instead, they are content with performing for camera-laden viewers. Bursting from the water, they launch as much as three-quarters of their body skyward and turn onto their back or side before hurtling back into the sea. Sometimes first the mother and then the calf breach, several times in a row with about a 15-second interval in between. Yet the whales maintain enough distance from the panga to scarcely make waves. They spyhop for up to 30 seconds after a dive, lingering above water and scanning the horizon. Then their 12-foot-long tail flukes arch into the air before descending with a mighty splash.

Continued In Whale Watching Around The World Part 8

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