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Migrating whales reward patience

NEWPORT, Ore. – Coastal visitors hoping for a glimpse of migrating gray whales in the next weeks may get a “twofer.”

A transient pod of killer whales, or orcas, are making their usual mid-April appearance, mostly between the Florence area and Cascade Head near Lincoln City.

Morris Grover, administrator of the Oregon Whale Watching Center in Depoe Bay, says marine biologists don’t know for sure where they come from.

They are more predatory than the orcas that live full-time in Puget Sound around the San Juan Islands and live mostly on salmon. The Oregon coast group is in search of seals and baby gray whales.

“They are here to intercept the baby gray whales, as this is the time they usually arrive along our coast,” Grover said. “They usually are here for a few weeks.”

Last year they stayed longer, he said “but they were obviously supported by local food.”

“We watched a pod of five around Depoe Bay and actually filmed them taking what we believed to be a seal in the south end of the bay. Seals and sea lions are fast in the water, and orcas have to burn up a lot of energy to catch them.

“After all that work, one seal will feed only one orca. But when they kill a baby gray whale, the whole pod can eat for a week.”

The gray whales are migrating north, from birthing in Mexico’s Baja California to their summer foraging grounds in Alaska.

To see the animals, Grover suggests patience and a high vantage point such as the lighthouse at Yaquina Bay, the Yaquina Head area, Don Davis Memorial Park in Nye Beach or Cape Foulweather.


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