Whale-watching time on the Oregon Coast

The greatest show on surf returns to the Oregon Coast this week during the annual spring migration of gray whales off the state's shores, and an army of volunteers will be available all week to help you spot them.

A record number of whales are making their way north toward their summer feeding grounds in the Arctic, but rough seas could make their annual trek a clandestine one.

Whale-watchers generally watch for spouts of water that erupt when the behemoths exhale, usually 1 to 3 miles offshore.

But heavy winds now churning 16-foot seas could make spotting the 12-foot-tall spouts tough — even with the help of about 400 trained volunteers at two dozen Whale Watching Spoken Here sites along the coast next week.

"We've had crummy weather these past few weeks," says Linda Taylor, who helps manage the volunteer program out of the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department's Whale Watching Center in Depoe Bay.

"We're hoping for nice, clear and calm weather this next week," Taylor says. "It's a lot to hope for, but it can happen. We're keeping our fingers crossed."

The trained visitors will man various viewpoints from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. beginning Saturday, March 24, and running through March 31.

Visitors should bring binoculars and rain gear.

More than 18,000 gray whales cruise past Oregon each spring as part of their 12,000-mile northward migration from Baja to Alaska.

Mixed among the pods are about 1,000 humpback whales that join the migration. The humpbacks stand out because their dorsal fin is visible when they dive.

About 400 gray whales do not go as far north as Alaska to feed in the summer, choosing instead to stick around and feed along the coasts of Oregon, Washington and British Columbia.

Whales generally can be seen off Oregon's central coast from July through mid-November. These whales are seen very close to shore while feeding and often can be seen from many of the same locations staffed next week by volunteers.

The Depoe Bay center is the central location for viewing and is staffed daily throughout the summer.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@mailtribune.com.

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