The greatest show on surf returns to the Oregon Coast next week during the annual spring migration of gray whales off the state's shores, and an army of volunteers will be available all week to help you spot them.
The first of thousands of gray whales already have been spotted on their way north toward their summer feeding grounds in the Arctic, and the spring migration usually is the best time to see them.
Seas off the Oregon Coast tend to be calmer in the spring than during December, when the whales are migrating south to warm-water calving grounds, says Dave Bone of Medford, who is one of about 400 trained volunteers who will help people spot whales at two-dozen Whale Watching Spoken Here sites along the coast next week.
The whales also venture closer to shore in spring, making their 12-foot-tall spouts easier to spot, says Bone, who will hold court daily next week at Shore Acres State Park south of Charleston.
They hang closer to shore in order to search for shrimp and other food sources near kelp beds, Bone says, and to limit the exposure of females and their calves to predators such as orcas.
"One of the thoughts is, if they stay close to shore, the sound of the waves covers their noise to protect them from killer whales, which go out in search of them now," Bone says.
The trained visitors will man various viewpoints from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. beginning Saturday and running through March 30.
Visitors should bring binoculars and rain gear.
More than 18,000 gray whales cruise past Oregon each spring as part of their 12,000-mile northward migration from Baja to Alaska.
Mixed among the pods are about 1,000 humpback whales that join the migration. The humpbacks stand out because their dorsal fins are visible when they dive.
About 400 gray whales do not go as far north as Alaska to feed in the summer, choosing instead to stick around and feed along the coasts of Oregon, Washington and British Columbia.
Whales generally can be seen off Oregon's central coast from July through mid-November. These whales are seen very close to shore while feeding and often can be seen from many of the same locations staffed next week by volunteers.
The Oregon Parks and Recreation Department Whale Watching Center in Depoe Bay is the central location for viewing and is staffed daily throughout the summer.
For a list of the staffed sites, see www.whalespoken.org. The site includes information about opportunities for boat and airplane tours.
Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.