Spring Whale Watching on the Long Beach, Washington Peninsula

The gray whale is a baleen whale that migrates between feeding and breeding grounds every year passing by the Long Beach, Washington Peninsula during the southern and northern migrations.  Gray whales can reach a length of 52 ft and can weigh about 35 tons and live a very long time, 50–70 years!  They are called “Gray” because they have gray patches and white mottling on dark skin and descend from filter-feeding whales that developed over 30 million years ago.

When the arctic ice starts to form, the grays whales start a two- to three-month trip south to the Baja Peninsula and Gulf of Mexico.  Around 19,000 whales migrate by the Long Beach Peninsula on their way to warmer waters and then a couple of months later, they cruise by again heading back north.  So they really don’t have a lot of vacation time for all that traveling, they say it’s the longest migration of  any mammal up to .

The gray whale is a baleen whale that migrates between feeding and breeding grounds every year passing by the Long Beach, Washington Peninsula during the southern and northern migrations.  Gray whales can reach a length of 52 ft and can weigh about 35 tons and live a very long time, 50–70 years!  They are called “Gray” because they have gray patches and white mottling on dark skin and descend from filter-feeding whales that developed over 30 million years ago.

When the arctic ice starts to form, the grays whales start a two- to three-month trip south to the Baja Peninsula and Gulf of Mexico.  Around 19,000 whales migrate by the Long Beach Peninsula on their way to warmer waters and then a couple of months later, they cruise by again heading back north.  So they really don’t have a lot of vacation time for all that traveling.

This extensive gray whale migration all the way to Baja for such a brief stay reminds me of our several family trips during spring vacation when we would drive from Lake Oswego, near Portland all the way to Ensenada, in Baja California.  It’s a long drive in a station wagon with parents and two domineering older brothers for a very brief stay in Baja.  Of course, stopping at Disneyland and in San Diego were nice distractions away from the back seat of a Plymouth station wagon.  We’d spend a few days in Baja and then turn around and drive back to Portland.  Our family migration from Portland to Baja does have a vague but humorous similarity to the gray whales’.  The gray whales tend to breed and nurse their youngsters while in the warmer waters which certainly was not our goal while in Baja.

Our favorite place to watch for the gray whales is in Cape Disappointment State Park at the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center and the North Head Lighthouse.  From December until early February, we have seen the grays migrating south and then again in March, April and May when they return to the arctic.  That being said, we have seen gray whales in September just off the surf line from the stunning turnout on the Loop 100 in Cape D State Park.  There are some “permanent” gray whales living off the Washington Coast.  Just over a month ago a half dozen gigantic blue whales were spotted not far off the Long Beach Peninsula, perhaps 30 miles.  They were over 100 feet long!  Fishermen report in one day of summer fishing, seeing three or four varieties of whales including sperm whales and humpbacks or “humpies” off our coast.

Grays feed mostly on crustaceans which it eats by turning on its side (usually the right, resulting in loss of eyesight in the right eye for many older animals) and it scoops up sediments from the sea floor.  They eat by using their baleens which act like a sieve, to capture small sea animals, taken in along with sand, water and other materials they scoop up.  They feed in arctic waters during the summer and sometimes feed during its migration but mostly, when heading south, they rely on their fat reserves.  We have seen them seemingly rubbing themselves on the North Jetty near our favorite spot in the Cape D State Park.   They were feeding by scraping the rocks on the jetty.  So cool!

During migration, these giant cruisers average around 75 miles per day at an average speed of 5 mph.  The round trip of 9,900–14,000 miles is supposedly the longest annual migration of any mammal.  By late December to early January, they begin to arrive in the calving lagoons of Baja. Gestation for grays is 13.5 months so often mothers give birth in the safer waters of Baja and single females are seeking mates.  By mid-February to mid-March the whales have arrived in the lagoons and are nursing, calving and mating.

Throughout February and March, the first to leave the lagoons are males and females without new calves. Pregnant females and nursing mothers with their newborns are the last to depart, leaving only when their calves are ready for the journey, which is usually from late March to mid-April. Sometimes the mothers with new calves linger in warm waters into May.

A population of about 200 gray whales stay along the eastern Pacific coast from Canada to California throughout the summer which is why we occasionally see them in non-migration months.  They never leave to go to Alaskan waters. This summer resident group is known as the Pacific Coast Feeding Group.

Now that you know all about gray whales, drive to the Long Beach, Washington Peninsula to try to get a glimpse.  Right now you might see a few stragglers heading south and in a month or so you will see the gray whales returning from their brief stay in the warmer waters off the Baja Peninsula.  At Boreas Inn, we always have binoculars for you to borrow and helpful hints (Bill is great at spotting whales). During the busier times of migration, there are experts at the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center in Cape D. State Park, just 10 minutes from Boreas Inn.

This is a perfect time of year to take your Valentine to the beach to watch for whales and sleep in the Boreas Inn’s lovely beds, dine by the fire on the best three-course B&B breakfast you’ve ever had, breathe the cool ocean breezes, be lulled by the gentle sound of the Pacific Ocean lapping on the beach and to relax.  Let your innkeepers, Susie Goldsmith and Bill Verner design your time away with great dinners at The Depot, Pelicano, the 42nd Street Cafe, The Lost Roo and Shelburne’s dining room and maybe an in-room massage!  Check our online specials or give us a call at 888-642-8069. We hope to see you soon!

 

 

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