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Oregon's Whale Watch Week needs volunteers
Oregon Coast Notes - News

whaleIt's a tougher sell getting volunteers for the winter sessions of Whale Watch Week than it is for the more balmy spring event.

However, volunteer coordinator Morris Grover has a few hefty incentives.

"Nothing's more fun than playing with giants in the ocean," said Grover, volunteer coordinator at the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department Whale Watching Center in Depoe Bay. "It's like, 'what a great volunteer job.'

"You're supposed to stand there and watch for whales, and then tell people how to find them and where they are, and anyone who sees something bigger than a dinosaur is going to be fairly impressed."

Jim and Mary Falstrom of Salem have been volunteers both winter and spring for more than a decade, most of that time at the Whale Watching Spoken Here viewing station at Devil's Punchbowl State Park.

"I can't say that the weather's ever been (great) probably in all of those years we've had a dozen good days," he said about the winter sessions. "It's a little better in the spring than in December."

Sign-ups are open for training Dec. 5 and 6 in Newport for the winter sessions that run Dec. 26 through Jan. 1.

During the week between Christmas and New Years, the trained volunteers staff 26 sites -- 24 of them on the Oregon Coast, one each in Southern Washington and Northern California -- to dispense information and brochures and to help coast visitors spot southward-migrating gray whales.

Grover has another great reason for going to the training.

One of the founders of Whale Watch Week, and the highlighted speaker/trainer at the training sessions, is Bruce Mate, one of the foremost authorities on whales in the world and the director of Oregon State University's Marine Mammal Institute, and as an aside, an incredibly entertaining and interesting speaker, Grover said.

"It's his baby, so he'll come out of his office for us," he said. "He just doesn't get to the public, so this really is a rare occasion."

On a good day -- bluebird skies, flat ocean, whales on the move -- you can spot two dozen or more a day, Jim Falstrom said.

"But a lot of times if there's whitecaps out there and wind and rain, you're lucky if you see a couple," he said, then added with a laugh, "Whales don't always know when it's Whale Watching Week; they haven't quite figured that out."

During their stints, Jim and Mary Falstrom have told the whales' tale to thousands of people.

"You get to talk to a lot of interesting people from all over the world," he said. "Germany would be one for sure; you get a lot of Canadians. We've talked to people from Scandinavia," as well as from almost every state.

In fact, his wife confessed, that's become her favorite part of Whale Watch Week.