Guest Author - Barb Conley
Some of our most famous West Coast travelers are the amazing gray whales. Each winter these 45 to 50 foot whales make a 10,000+ mile southbound trip from their summer feeding grounds in the Arctic and Chukchi seas to the lagoons off Baja California, Mexico where there calves are born. Then, they repeat the trip in reverse in early spring.
Spotting them is thrilling. You’ll be scanning the horizon with or without your binoculars when you see mist bursts several feet above the surface and have the un-resistible urge to shout, “There’s a whale!” If the whales are close enough to shore as they surface and deep dive, you may be able to see their distinguishing hump.
The gray whales begin their south-bound migration from the Arctic in late October so peak winter whale watching is December through mid-January depending on your coastal location – the further south you are, the later the whales pass your location.
The north-bound migration from Baja California, Mexico begins in mid-February so peak spring whale watching is mid-February through May, again depending on your coastal location. Whales can be seen along the coast outside the prime migration period too.
There are several great places for gray whale watching - just head to any park with Pacific Ocean access. Some good sights to try are the Whale Overlook and Old Point Loma Lighthouse at the Cabrillo National Monument Park near San Diego, the Whale Watching Center in Depoe Bay, Oregon and the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center at Cape Disappointment State Park in Washington. Commercial whale watching boat tours are available from many seacoast towns too.
Oregon also has gray whale watching in the summer because 200 or so gray whales choose to hang around the Oregon coast instead of traveling to the Arctic. The Whale Watching Center and Boiler Bay Scenic View Point near Depoe Bay are good locations for viewing these whales from mid-July to mid-September.
California loves the grays so much that several towns hold March festivals to honor the whales and their calves. The Mendocino coast in northern California, about 150 miles north of San Francisco, holds two festivals to honor the 20,000 gray whales expected to pass by on their way north - one at the Point Cabrillo Lighthouse near the town of Mendocino and one at Fort Bragg.
The Mendocino festival held in early March combines whale watching at Mendocino Headlands State Park and wine tasting, while the Fort Bragg Whale Festival in mid-march combines whale watching at MacKerricher State Park and micro-brew tasting. Both festivals have activities in the parks and at Pt. Cabrillo Lighthouse as well as in the towns of Mendocino and Fort Bragg. Activities include educational whale walks, marine exhibits, art displays, run/walks, chowder tasting, kid’s activities, comic entertainment and more.
Other California whale festivals held in March include the Dana Point Festival of the Whales, the Redwood Coast Whale & Jazz Festival, the Celebration of the Whales at the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, the Point Mugu to Point Dume Whale Festival near Malibu. Here is more information about the festivals.
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