Bruce Mate and Denise Herzing from the Hatfield Marine Science Center were counting Gray whales migrating past Yaquina Head Lighthouse in 1978, when Don Giles, also of the Science Center, headed out to the lighthouse with his binoculars and a great idea. He realized that Gray whales migrate past the Oregon coast during two special times of the year.
The southbound migration peaks just around the winter holiday season and the northbound migration has one of its two peaks near the end of March during spring break. This created the best possible match of whales and visitors!
Don created the Whale Watching Spoken Here® program that year to help visitors spot Gray whales and learn a bit about them. Since the main emphasis of the program is on volunteers meeting and greeting visitors interested in whales and whale migration, Don Giles and Bev Lund coined the phrase “Whale Watching Spoken Here.”
Since then, it has grown to encompass hundreds of trained volunteers who donate their time and expertise to help visitors see these amazing Gray whales and create a rewarding educational experience. The program places trained volunteers at 26 great whale-watching sites from 10 am to 1 pm during the winter and spring watch weeks.
A summer whale watch week was added in 2004, but discontinued in 2007 because of the misconception that we only had whales one week during the summer, when we really have them all summer long. The advantage of summer watching is the whales are really close to shore. Summer whale watching is from June through October, but the peak times are August, September and October.
The program now holds three training sessions at different locations (north, central and south coast) to make it easier for volunteers to be trained without having to travel to Newport.
The winter migration has the highest numbers
- The southbound migration peaks just around the winter holiday season
- There are usually about 30 whales per hour passing the Oregon Coast at the peak of the southbound migration.
- During Winter Whale Watch Week the whales are usually 1- 5 miles offshore so bring binoculars.
- If you are in an area that has whale watch boats, watch the boats. When they stop there are whales around.
- Higher locations are better than sandy beaches, although whales can be seen from any location.
- Morning light is better than afternoon light which reflects the water.
- Calm days with a relatively flat ocean are better.
- Focus your binoculars, but watch with your eyes, When you see a blow, bring up your binoculars.
- During Winter Whale Watch Week the whales are migrating south to Baja Mexico.
- The blow or spout shoots nearly 12 feet high expelling 400 liters of air in a single blast.
- If frightened they can stay under for 30 minutes.
- Gray whales normally surface every 45 seconds as they swim, but will stay under for 3-5 min if feeding.
It takes about 450 volunteers to cover one week of watching at the 28 locations. Come and join us.
Whale Watching Spoken Here® is currently the largest whale watching organization in the world. For more than 30 years our trained volunteers have helped visitors watch whales at 26 sites in three states along the Pacific Northwest coast. We definitely know whale watching.
Many volunteers are local to their areas, but there are volunteers that come from all over the United States to be a part of this program.
New volunteers must initially complete the training provided by top whale researchers before helping at their chosen sites. The program now holds three training sessions at different locations along the coast to make it easier for volunteers to be trained without having to travel to Newport.
Trained volunteers may attend additional training sessions at no charge to keep up with changes in whale research.
Many trained volunteers plan their vacations to come and show visitors the gray whales. Some come back year after year to the same “favorite” site, while other go to a new site each visit. It is truly a rewarding and fun experience.
You can become a Whale Watch Volunteer
With pre-registration the class training is free and includes two field guides, a nametag and a training manual. You need only take the training once, but repeats are welcome! After your initial training you may audit the classes for free, but be sure to pre-register.
Volunteers are expected to work at a watch site a minimum of two days. Although the schedule is 10 a.m.-1 p.m., actual volunteering time includes setting up the site with a sign and assembling the data at the end of the day. Many volunteers work additional days and become "regulars" at particular sites! They are super! We appreciate their dedication.
Free camping in coastal campsites (for tents or campers only) is available for volunteers during training weekends and watch weeks in the nearest state parks.
If you are pre-registered for a class or watch week, you may make free campsite reservations by contacting Gretchen Mills at Reservations Northwest at 1-888-953-7677. For Washington reservations at Ft. Canby State Park for either watch week or training, contact Park Ranger Tracy Zuern at 360-642-3078. California State Parks cannot offer free or discounted campsites at this time. For yurt or other campsite reservations, phone 1-800-452-5687 (regular fees apply). Visit oregonstateparks.org for other camping details and online reservations.
- The Embarcadero on the Bayfront in Newport is now offering a substantial discount on rooms overlooking the Yaquina Bay for training or watch week volunteers. Please contact reservations at 1-800-547-4779, Mon. - Fri., 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and tell them you are interested in room rates during whale watch training or watch weeks for participating volunteers.
- Active whale watch volunteers receive 10 percent discount on all merchandise at Yaquina Lights, Inc. stores during watch weeks:
- Yaquina Bay Lighthouse store open 12 p.m.-4 p.m. daily.
- Yaquina Head Interpretive Store open 10 p.m.-4 p.m.daily.
You may register for training and/or watch week by mail, e-mail, phone, or fax, or dropping in to visit us at the Whale Watching Center along the seawall in Depoe Bay.
Registration form includes information about training times, locations and agenda. It also has a map of 26 watching sites and dates of Winter and Spring weeks with a form for signing up to volunteer. If you sign up and volunteer at least two days, the training is free.
With pre-registration, you will also receive three publications as part of the training materials: Gray Whale and other Marine Mammals Reference Manual, The Marine Mammals of the Eastern North Pacific and Marine Mammals on the Beach.
More Whale Watching Articles and Photos
Whale Migration Map
Whale Watching Locations