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How To Spot A Whale During Peak Migration Week On The Northwest Coast

Chris Lehman

The week between Christmas and New Year's is one of the best times of the year to watch grey whales migrating along the Oregon coast. It's the height of their annual southbound trek from Alaska to Baja California. Correspondent Chris Lehman headed out to see if he could spot any of the sea beasts during their coastal journey.

I pull off Highway 101 at Boiler Bay State Park just south of Lincoln City. It's one of two-dozen spots along the Oregon coast where trained volunteers are posted during Whale Watch Week to help folks like me find a whale. I was greeted by Larry Hinton and his wife Marie.

Larry Hinton: "We've been out here about 20 minutes, and just a moment ago my wife and I spotted two that are together."

Hinton tells me the key to spotting a whale is to keep your eyes peeled for the tell-tale upward spout of water. That's a whale coming up for a big gulp of air.

Larry Hinton: "Did you see him spout? He's just straight out there."
Chris Lehman: "Uh, when you say straight out are we talking like 300 feet, or further? Because I'm not seeing it, actually."
Larry Hinton: "It's out about, that's probably out three miles or so."

I left Hinton and his wife for a few minutes and wandered around and by the time I got back, it was clear I'd missed out again.

Larry Hinton: "I saw a breach here a minute ago, where they actually come up out of the water. They do that all the time I guess, but we've never seen them do it. We've got four tallied now, so that's great."

I headed down the coast a few miles to Depoe Bay, a town that calls itself the Whale Watching Capital of the Oregon coast. If I couldn't spot a whale there, then I may as well head home. I ran into Dan Patillo, who says he's been watching whales for 15 years. He offered up this advice:

Dan Patillo: "Be patient. Wait. Because the whales are coming. So just settle down and relax. No matter if it's raining or sunny, whales are still going to be around."

But further down the Depoe Bay seawall, Whale Watch volunteer Al Wilson had a more practical suggestion: Find a whale watching boat and look just to its side. And what do you know, that worked. I soon saw a column of water shooting into the air. It was the calling card of a gray whale, halfway through a long journey south in search of warmer waters.

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