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Annual whale migration has begun along the Oregon Coast

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. The whales also venture closer to shore in spring, making their 12-foot-tall spouts easier to spot.

The whales often hang closer to shore to search for shrimp and other food sources near kelp beds, and to limit the exposure of females and their calves to predators such as orcas.

To help spot the spouts and learn more about these massive mammals, trained spotters from the state’s Whale Spoken Here program will man two dozen viewpoints from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. beginning Saturday and running through March 31.

Curry County sites include Harris Beach and Cape Ferrelo states parks. For a list of sites, visit whalespoken.org.

Visitors should bring binoculars and rain gear.

For those who can’t venture into the tidelands, the Oregon State Parks and Recreation Department will provide a live stream of whale activity off Depoe Bay. To view that link, visit www.youtube.com/user/OregonParks/.

More than 18,000 gray whales cruise past Oregon each spring as part of their 12,000-mile migration from Baja to Alaska.

Mixed among the pods are about 1,000 humpback whales. 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 often seen very close to shore while feeding and often can be seen from many of the same locations staffed next week by volunteers.

The state parks department’s Whale Watching Center in Depoe Bay is the central location for viewing and is staffed daily throughout the summer.