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How To Spot A Whale On The Northwest Coast

Chris Lehman
Northwest News Network
Larry and Marie Hinton keep an eye out for whales at Boiler Bay State Park near Depoe Bay, Oregon.

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.

Just off Highway 101 at Boiler Bay State Park just south of Lincoln City is one of two-dozen spots along the Oregon coast where trained volunteers are posted during Whale Watch Week. They are there to help folks find a whale.

I was greeted by two of them, Larry Hinton and his wife Marie.

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

Hinton said 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.

"Did you see him spout?" he asked. "He's just straight out there."

I couldn't see it.

"It's out about, that's probably out three miles or so," Hinton said.

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.

"I saw a breach here a minute ago, where they actually come up out of the water," explained Hinton. "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."

Down the coast a few miles is 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:

"Be patient," he said. "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.