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Orcas on the Oregon Coast
Depoe Bay

orca

DEPOE BAY -- Park Ranger Linda Taylor has watched something outside her office window that few ever see on the Oregon Coast -- orcas.

 

She saw five of them, four adults circling a baby, to the north of her desk at the Depoe Bay Whale Watching Center.

 

“They were spyhopping,” she said, describing how the killer whales lifted their heads above the waves to watch the youngster. “I’ve never seen orcas do that. We watched them for one and a half hours.”

 

The sighting was so dramatic here that a few lucky visitors captured it on their cameras. Center volunteers filmed it on a video camera permanently stationed at the big bay windows overlooking the Pacific.

 

Visitors to the Whale Watching Center on Hwy. 101 catch relive Taylor’s joy by watching the footage when there are no live shots of gray whales migrating along the Oregon Coast.

 

There are usually thousands migrating this time of year from their wintering grounds in Baja, Mexico, to the Bering Sea in Alaska -- about 6,000 miles.

 

About 200 to 300 of the gray whales stay along the Oregon-Washington coast.  About 30 favor Depoe Bay as a feeding ground and stay for the summer without heading heading north, Taylor said.

 

“Some people call them resident whales but they feed between Lincoln City and Newport” during calmer seas, then migrate south for mating season in the Baja, she explained.

 

These “residents” are often seen feeding at rocks or even the seawall below the Whale Watching Center, where they’re joined by sea lions, harbor seals and some dolphins.

 

“You can watch old ‘Eagle Eye’ from here,” Taylor said, naming one of the most frequent visitors among the local gray whales.

 

Visitors can use free binoculars at the center to skim the horizon for gray whales migrating along the Oregon Coast.

 

Or they can take hour-long tours aboard whale watching boats from Depoe Bay, known as the smallest harbor in the world because of the tiny opening in the rocks between the Pacific and the harbor, where fishing vessels dock alongside pleasure craft and even a whale research boat.

 

On low-visibility days, Taylor has another wild surprise for those who venture into the center -- black oyster catchers.

 

The gawky shorebirds with distinctive red beaks can be seen pecking at the black rocks below the center, fishing for tidepool bits.

 

“We never knew we had it so good,” Taylor said, emphasizing that birders come from all over the world to see the rare birds.

 

About 20 oyster catchers are spotted here frequently, she said.

 

The center has interactive displays about whales, fossilized pieces of whale bones, and tiny specimens of mysid shrimp.

 

The whitish shrimp, about the size of a small fingernail, are the favored food of gray whales.  They eat them by the trillion.

 

The Depoe Bay Whale Watching Center is free and open Wed. to Sun., 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

 

More info: (541) 765-3304 or www.whalespoken.org.

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