Gray Whale Migration
Each October, as the northern ice pushes southward, small groups of gray whales in the eastern Pacific start a two to three month 5,000 – 6,800 mile trip south. Beginning in the Bering and Chukchi seas and ending in the warm water lagoons of Mexico’s Baja peninsula and the southern Gulf of California, they travel along the west coast of Canada, the United States and Mexico.
Traveling night and day, the gray whale averages approximately 75 miles per day at an average speed of 5 mph. This round trip of 10,000 – 13,600 miles is believed to be the longest annual migration of any mammal. By late December to early January, they begin to arrive in the calving lagoons of Baja. The three most popular lagoons are Laguna Ojo de Liebre, San Ignacio and Magdalena.
These first whales to arrive are usually pregnant mothers that look for the protection of the lagoons to bear their calves, along with single females seeking mates. By mid February to mid March, the bulk of the population has arrived in the lagoons, filling them with nursing, calving and mating gray whales.
Throughout February and March, the first to leave the lagoons are males and females without new calves. Pregnant females and nursing mothers with their newborns are the last to depart, leaving only when their calves are ready for the journey, which is usually from late March to mid April. Often a few mothers linger with their young calves well into May.
Populations of about 200 gray whales stay along the eastern Pacific coast from Canada to California throughout the summer, not making the farther trip to Alaska waters, many of these whales stay here in Depoe Bay to feed on the abundance of mysid shrimp. During migration gray whales feed very little or not at all. There are approximately 18,000 gray whales in the winter and spring migrations and a group of 200-400 whales that feed along the Oregon and Washington coast during fall and summer. In the spring, March through June most of these gray whales make the journey from their breeding lagoons in Baja California to the Arctic feeding grounds. On this northbound migration, small numbers of gray whales fall out of the migration group and stop at various locations along the Oregon coast, one of these places is Depoe Bay; these whales are called resident whales.
For whales to be known as residents, they must stay around a certain area for at least two days, exhibit feeding behavior, and return year after year. This distinguishes them from migrating whales which stop on their migration to feed and then move on their way. Along the coast of Depoe Bay, our resident gray whales begin showing up in June. On any one day throughout the summer, numbers range from 1 to 20. Some arrive in early summer, leave, and then return in late summer or early fall.
Resident gray whales remain around Depoe Bay for a period of days to months, there is one whale Scarback (Pictured Above) who has been around for at least 20 years. The last of the resident whales leave in October or November and return to the breeding lagoons of Baja California to rejoin the remainder of the population. Juveniles pass first followed by adults, last are the mothers and babies. Many of them come close to shore feeding on Oregon’s great food supply. In April and May you may be able to see mothers and calves resting in protected coves close to shore.
What is the best time of the year to see whales? Folks seem to think that the best time is during the annual migrations. Contrary to that popular belief, the best time to see whales here in Depoe Bay is March through October. This is when our resident whales have returned and take up residence. As summer approaches we see more of our resident whales returning for the season.
During the spring migration is when the whales move closer to shore and will stop to feed. The best time of day are mornings before the wind starts to blow, during the afternoon it can get windy, which has a tendency to blow the spouts down making it hard for people to see them. Our most popular trips are 1 ½ hours at 8:00am and 10:00am. This is when the ocean is usually calmer and a more enjoyable ride.
If you would like to book a trip March through October you can call Dockside Charters at 541.765.2545, be sure and request us by name “Whales Tail” or you can make online Reservations. I will get back with you as soon as possible. Keep in mind that I am usually running tours during the day so I may not be able to respond until that evening or the next business day.
The Whales Tail, LLC
270 Coast Guard Dr.
Depoe Bay, Oregon 97341
Toll Free: 1.800.733.8915