Grey Whales, Seals, Sea Lions… A Day With Oregon’s Sea Creatures

Mileage today: 105 miles. Total Mileage: 1,880

We had a brilliant day today. Up early and off to Whale Research EcoExcursions in Depoe Bay, about 45 minutes away. We were booked on their 9am whale watching trip and very excited for it. The weather was fine and the sea very still so conditions were good. The trip was a 90 minute whale encounter plus a 20 minute introductory video packed with information about the whales from Dr Carrie Newell, the marine biologist who owns the business. It was explained that thousands of grey whales migrate between Baja Mexico and Alaska twice a year passing off the coast of Oregon. There are also humpback whales and Orcas in the migratory pack. However, about 200 grey whales never go further than Depoe Bay on their journey north and summer there. This is because they have found that a particular kind of shrimp that they like to eat is found in huge quantities in the local kelp. So, during the summer which is the “off” period for whales in many places because they’re in Alaska, you can still reliably see grey whales in Depoe Bay.

We were 4 in a very large rib – 7 or 8m – with forward facing seats expertly captained by Kevin. We found our first grey whale within a few minutes of leaving the little harbour but he or she appeared to be resting rather than eating as he gave us a flick of his tail and then disappeared. We moved south to a kelp bed near some rocks and there found 2 more whales happily feeding away and we stayed between the two of them for our allotted time. Each whale can be up to about 40 feet long. Pretty big. They came up to the surface to blow ever couple of minutes and got really close to us a number of times. It was quite thrilling. They don’t jump like humpbacks or Orcas do, possibly because they are feeding along the bottom. They were so graceful moving through the water and just an elegant tail flip up at the end. You would hear them come up to blow, then they would either dive again for 2 minutes or they would maybe spend a minute on the surface before diving, but the final movement would be the arched back coming up and down and then the tail fin fluking gracefully as it disappeared…. At the right angle you could see that the blow was in two spurts making a V.

I attach some short video clips which are better than the stills in many ways taken by Bob as well as me. I know there’s a lot…. I couldn’t choose, so apologies, but they are all really short!

We also saw flocks of pelicans flying low over the water in their squadrons. The time went much too quickly and we were soon on our way back. Kevin took us into Whale Cove en route to see some grey harbour seals and the rather pretty cove. We had a great trip and at $55 each we though it was good value, especially to be on a boat with just another couple.

We were starving by the time we got back to the car so we drove south and just after Newport we saw this ramshackle crab shack beside the river that had loads of people eating there and queuing for food. The building looked tumbledown but then… the best crab shacks are always like that. Thought it looked promising so we had lunch there. It was great. I had a crab sandwich which was massive, lots of crab. I should have photographed it but I’m afraid I fell on it like Old Ben Gunn on a piece of cheddar….. Bob had a Captain’s choice of scallops and halibut with chips. Absolute perfection. I had a scallop to try and it was just melt in the mouth.

Suitably sustained, we drove south, through Yachats (very cute, pretty seaside town) to Cape Perpetua, a forest/seashore preserve with a lighthouse. We explored several of the viewpoints and trekked down to the shore at the Devil’s Churn , Spouting Horn and Thor’s Well – both sort of blowholes in the rocks. But it was quite busy and it wasn’t high tide for the best effects, so after a brief stay down there, we kept going to Hecate Lighthouse State Park. Parked on the beach and walked the rather steep trail up to the pretty lighthouse and the lighthouse keepers’ house which is now a guesthouse. It is licensed for weddings and there was one on. Clearly the wedding will be at sunset facing out to the ocean but the bridal party were already there at the guest house taking pictures. What a lovely setting!!

It was a bit of a puff up to the lighthouse but the views were worth it. The coast from Yachats south is absolutely spectacular. Definitely on a par with Big Sur in California. The road winds round hugging the cliffs, bridges over the ravines…. rocks off shore,… towering cliffs, rock pools, golden beaches…. surf….. gorgeous. There was a little exhibition at the lighthouse and you could go into the base of the tower but not climb it. The light was still working.

Coming back down we enjoyed the views: people picnicking behind the beach (funny…. one man was dancing around yelling because a bird had annointed him bang on the head with some “good luck”), and a lone brave paddleboarder who was way off shore enjoying the perfect conditions.

We drove a little bit further south – maybe a mile – to Sealion Cave. This is a massive sea cave at the base of 300 foot high cliffs where a colony of California and Stellar sea lions make their home. The cave itself is huge: the largest sea grotto in the USA. You can take an elevator down to the cave and peep in, but you cannot enter because it is protected for the sealions. As it is summer none of them were in the cave – they are out on a big ledge at the foot of the cliff this time of year. We puffed up and down the steep ramps between the cave and the viewing platform for the sealion ledge. There were a lot of sea lions down there making a lot of noise. It is a rookery for them – where they raise their pups. One thing that was odd was that while some of them were in the water alone or playing in pairs, mainly they would go in together in a big huddle and just float in the huddle connected as if they were a raft. Whether this is for protection I don’t know. Fun to watch them.

We returned to the lodge about 4pm and rested for a while. Bob made steaks for dinner on the little bbq. Very nice. We’ve just had a brilliant day watching all these lovely creatures.