Gray whale migration underway

An estimated 18,000 gray whales have begun their southern migration from the Bering Sea to their breeding grounds around Baja, Mexico and can be sighted from shore over the next week or two.

Winter Whale Watch week began Saturday and runs through Jan.1.

About 450 volunteers at 26 sites along the Pacific coast will be on hand that week to educate people about gray whales and help them spot a whale spouting, or perhaps even breaching the surface.

During last winter’s whale watch week, more than 13,000 people visited a whale watching site, and volunteers recorded 832 whale sightings.

The sites are part of Whale Watching Spoken Here, one of largest onshore whale watching programs in the nation.

With public beaches and an easily accessible coastline, Oregon offers some of the best opportunity to spot a gray whale.

The program is based out of the Oregon Department of Parks & Recreation Department’s Whale Watching Center in Depoe Bay.

Other sponsors include Oregon State University’s Hatfield Marine Science Center (HMSC), Oregon Institute of Marine Biology, Washington State Parks, Bureau of Land Management at Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area, Cape Perpetua’s U.S. Forest Service Scenic Area, and the City of Depoe Bay.

Don Giles, who worked out of the Hatfield Marine Science Center, started the program in 1978 after realizing the giant mammals’ southern migration brought them within view during the Christmas holiday season, and that they returned north during spring break, perfect times for large numbers of people to visit the Oregon coast.

Whale Watching Spoken Here volunteers are trained at HMSC in Newport, Oregon Institute of Marine Biology in Charleston, and at the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center in Ilwaco, Wash.