Originally posted February 2010
Known as the Oregon coast’s whale-watching capital, the tiny seaside village of Depoe Bay sits on Highway 101 on a rocky harbor carved from lava rock. When the waves hit the lava tubes, little seawater geysers, called “spouting horns” occur.
If the rain hadn’t been so blustery, Ken and I would have enjoyed walking the promenade along the seawall of Depoe Bay’s harbor, but that wasn’t to be. Still, we made the best of our trip and found a lot to love about this area despite the foul weather.
I couldn’t believe that the period from Christmas to January 6 is the year’s peak whale migration season, but at this time, gray whales are making their way south to Baja where they calve. As many as 60 whales an hour pass by Depoe Bay during this time. Unfortunately, Ken and I never spotted any from the shore because of the stormy weather and gray skies.
The town of Depoe Bay is pretty little: a quaint collection of shops, galleries and restaurants right on the harbor. The low clouds obscured the ocean views during our visit, but I hear tell that you can eat breakfast in a restaurant and spot whale spouts from your table.
That didn’t happen for us, but we still enjoyed getting out of the rain and warming ourselves with world-famous clam chowder at Gracie’s Sea Hag, a nautical-themed restaurant.
Whale Watching Center
Even if you don’t spot whales, you can learn a lot about them at the Whale Watch Center, overlooking Depoe Bay’s harbor. Run by the Oregon Parks and Rec Department, the Whale Center has films, museum displays and information for both kids and adults. The park rangers answer your questions and help you find whales.
The Center also provides maps of the prime lookout points for whales, and if you happen to visit during winter or spring Whale Watch Weeks (December and March), you’ll encounter experienced volunteers who are posted at these scenic overlooks and can point you in the right direction.
In summer, a pod of whales hangs out in and around Depoe Bay where these baleen feeders vacuum up ton after ton of mysids (super-tiny shrimplike organisms).
Thar She Blows!
I’d almost given up hope for seeing whales—although the experts at the Whale Watch Center assured us the ocean mammals were there, just too many miles out for us to see in the fog. Fortunately, one day about noon, the sky cleared just enough that we convinced captain Loren Goddard, owner/operator of the charter vessel “Affair” to take us out seven miles. (We arranged this through Dockside Charter.)
Sure enough, the whales were there! We spotted the blows, like puffs of smoke, of about 10 whales—even seeing some ridged backs and tale flukes as the giants moved south. We exclaimed and cheered each time we found a new whale. Although we never got very close, it was a thrill seeing them.
In summer, Dockside runs whale-watch trips from 6-person Zodiac boats, which can give you a much closer look at the whales.
—Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor