Spring is best time to see the big GraysSpring is great whale-watching time in the Pacific Northwest, with some whale-watching charters boasting that you have a 95 percent chance of seeing a gray whale during the peak season, March through May.
The gray whales migrate each year from Baja California to their feeding grounds way up north in the Chukchi and Bering seas. It's a great excuse to visit the Washington or Oregon coasts where boats are available for short whale-watching tours that take you right out next to some of the biggest creatures on earth. It's also possible to see the whales from various points along the coastline where high rocks or coastal parks offer broad views of the ocean and the migrating whales.
Altogether there are about 23,000 whales that are estimated to make this annual migration. The whales play and feed along the way on small shrimp, fish and kelp.
If you're taking one of the whale watching expeditions that are offered on the Washington or Oregon coast, you'll find that you actually can get pretty close to these magnificent creatures with whales sometimes swimming right up next to the boats. They'll roll on their sides and drift along and sometimes lift their heads completely out of the water. You might also see them jumping out of the water -- quite a sight considering a gray whale might weigh as much as 35 tons.
Westport, Washington, with its fishing fleet is a good place to go to find a whale-watching charter. Locals say you have about a 95 percent chance of seeing a whale.
The Oregon coast has especially good places along the coastline to view the whales from land. Neahkahnie Mountain on the northern coast and Yaquina Head, a little further down the coast, are among the best places to go based on the number of sightings.
Keep in mind that sightings do vary from year to year, and the total number of sightings can be more in an area if there happen to be more people visiting that area.
Another whale-watching option is the Victoria Clipper which offers regular service between Seattle and Victoria, B.C. The company has come up with a number of itineraries and packages to combine your whale watching with Puget Sound sightseeing. Clipper Vacations will allow you to bundle transportation on the Victoria Clipper and hotel accommodations in any city, with a whale watching quest for either the Gray or Orca whales.
One of Clipper's most popular whale watching vacations departs from downtown Seattle and heads north through Deception Pass to Friday Harbor on San Juan Island. You can schedule their San Juan Island Whale Watching tour and enjoy two and half hours of whale watching and then on stay a night or two at one of their San Juan Island hotel partners.
Whale watching excursions are also offered with some of their Victoria and Vancouver vacation packages.
If you're going on any of the whale-watching cruises, be sure to wear a warm jacket because even in spring the air temperature over the ocean can be cold. Bring your camera -- you'll likely get close enough to get some dramatic photos to show friends and family when you get home.
Gray whales were almost driven to extinction in the 1850's. In 1993, they were removed from the endangered species list, but they are still protected. Today there are about 23,000 gray whales - about the same population that existed prior to hunting.
Interestingly, whales can stay underwater up to 15 minutes. Gray whales are big -- they get up to 47 feet in length and weigh as much as 70,000 pounds.
For more information on whale-watching out of Westport, Washington, phone 360-268-9144 or visit westportwa.com. For information on the Victoria Clipper, phone 800-888-2535 or visit www.clippervacations.com.
RECOMMENDED LODGING: Washington coast lodging
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