PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Whale Watch Week in Oregon returned in-person for the first time since the pandemic on Wednesday, drawing visitors hoping to catch a glimpse of the annual gray whale migration to the state’s coastline.
By early afternoon, more than 500 people had flocked to the Whale Watching Center in Depoe Bay, where a volunteer equipped with binoculars pointed out whales in the distance. A spokesperson for Oregon State Parks, which organizes the event, described scenes of excited spectators as several were spotted.
“She’s seeing the spray and calling it out,” Stefanie Knowlton told The Associated Press on the phone as she watched the center’s volunteer, the crowd cheering in the background. “There’s just so much energy. You could just really feel that people were ready to come back and watch whales together.”
Volunteers will be at 17 state parks along the coast through Sunday to help people spot the nearly 20,000 gray whales that make the southward journey to Mexico every year.
One of the sites, Cape Meares, was closed Wednesday after strong winds the previous day knocked over trees, Knowlton said.
Oregon State Parks organizes whale-watching events twice a year, in the winter for gray whales’ southern migration and in the spring for their return to northern waters near Alaska.
Oregon’s central coast is also a hot spot for whale-watching from June to mid-November, when the gray whales that remained in the state’s coastal waters during the summer migration come close to shore to feed, according to the agency.
Claire Rush is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Follow Claire on Twitter.