Because of its location along the western coast of the United States, there are a number of whale watching cruises in Oregon. These whale watching cruises are concentrated in two places, Depoe Bay and Newport, although there are a couple of other charter companies scattered along the coast that also offer whale watching cruises. Newport is less than a 20-minute drive from Depoe, so almost all of Oregon whale watching cruises operate in the same area. We have compiled the following overview of whale watching in Oregon to give you an idea of what to expect if you decide to take a cruise.
By far the most common whales seen off the coast of Oregon are grey whales, and this is the type of whale that all of the whale watching outfits focus on. There is an enormous grey whale migration each year from the cold waters off the coast of Alaska to warmer southern waters. The grey whales head to the lagoons off the coast of Baja California, Mexico to give birth, and then they head back north. The migration south takes place from approximately December to April, and the northern migration starts in March and generally concludes sometime in June.
Because the Oregon whale watching industry is primarily clustered in one area, however, the optimal window for seeing the migration is fairly brief, particularly during the winter migration, when the most grey whales are spotted from late December through mid-January. The grey whales are all charging down the coast in the pursuit of warm water, and late December through mid-January is when they pass by Depoe Bay and Newport, which are a little over a hundred miles southwest of Portland. The spring migration window is a bit wider, though, as mother whales and their recently born children will take longer to head north. So, even though the spring migration starts in March, there are definitely still grey whales making their way north well into the summer.
If you can’t manage to go whale watching during one of the two migration seasons, you can still see grey whales, and this is one of the strengths of taking a cruise from Oregon. The state is far north enough that a number of grey whales simply decide to stay off the coast of Oregon instead of swimming all the way back up to Alaska. The whales don’t stay here permanently, but they will often linger a few extra months, from June through October. There are reefs in Depoe Bay, for example, and whales will often stay around these areas feeding. During the summer and fall, some whale watching cruises will simply pick a good spot in the bay and stay stationary as they watch the whales swim around and beneath them. While you are waiting for whales, you can also spot other marine life, like seals and a variety of sea birds.
So, to conclude, the type of whale watching cruise you can take in Oregon will depend on the time of year you visit. However, whales can be seen throughout most of the year, as can a variety of other forms of marine life. Depoe Bay and Newport are definitely the main bases for whale watching in Oregon, but if you find yourself in another part of the coast, it is worth looking to see if any charter companies offer whale watching cruises in addition to whatever other services they offer.