Monday, November 9, 2009

Whale Watching Guidelines

A growing interest in the observation of whales brings people to the coast to whale watch. Whale watching is something you get better at with practice, but it does take some patience.

Once you have seen what you are looking for, looking for other sightings are much easier, and you will start to see more whales.

When and where
1. Be patience.

2. Observe from headlands with good elevation. When whales move along the shoreline, they usually will go around headlands very close to the shore.

3. Pick early morning hours. Conditions are usually better before winds cause windchop on the water's surface.

4. Choose weather that favors a calm ocean. Don't go during or just after a storm. Overcast days are good for whale watching because there is very little glare.

What to look for
1. Scan the horizon and look for the spouts, water, or spray blown into the air up to 12 feet when the whale exhales.

2. Once you locate a blow, keep looking for it. Where you see one blow, you will see others, either from other whales or the same whale. Getting the range to whales can sometimes be a problem, but once you establish it, you can focus your attention on this area.

3. Whales have periodic blow patterns during their migration. Usually an individual will make up to a 4-6 short, shallow dives before a more prolonged dive of up to 10 minutes, usually 3 to 5 minutes. Sometimes whales leave what I call a foot print on the water after short dives, so you can track their progress and watch for the next blow.

4. Usually, only a portion of the whale's head and back show during a blow. You can distinguish one whale from another by observing the position and shape of the dorsal fin, blow, head, back ridges, and tail. If the tail flukes are raised high, the dive will usually be a deep one. In shallow water, the whale may keep the flukes high for several minutes.

5. Spy Hopping is a term applied to a whale with its head partially out of the water in a vertical position, sometimes bringing the eye above the surface. Whales may do this both to see better and to listen.

6. Breaching is a term we use when a whale rises vertically out of the water, one-half to three-quarters of its length, and falls to its side or back-making a splash when it hits the water. The reasons for breaching are knocking off whale lice, communicating, courting, or just having fun. Often where one whale breaches, others will start to breach.

Identifying whales along the Oregon coast
1. Uneven gray color splotchy with barnacles in skin and ridges along the back just forward of the tail is a gray whale.

2. Long white flippers, with bumps on the top of the head, very strong angle of the back when diving, short dorsal fin is a humpback whale.

3. Tall dorsal fin, very crisp black and white color pattern, often seen in groups is a killer of whales or orca.