Watchable Wildlife

Whale Watching

Westport wants to welcome you to the wonders of Whale Watching!

If you are looking for the experience of a lifetime, come visit us in Westport, Washington and view some magnificent gray whales.  Traditionally our Charters go out into the Pacific ocean daily each spring from the first of March and on through most of May.

Each Charter company sets their own departure schedules and prices.  Generally, trips last for two and a half hours.  For a list of companies that offer these exciting trips, click Whale Watching Charters

From boats...  Whales can usually be spotted about two miles out and to the north and south of the entrance to Grays Harbor.  Since boats have the advantage of going to where whales are located, it is highly recommended that you take a Charter trip to see the gray whales.

Charter companies are approved by the Coast Guard to carry whale watching passengers.  The boats have covered cabins and ample deck space for passengers to walk around on the boats.  The captains of these boats have passed rigorous Coast Guard tests in order to get their boat operator's licenses.  They are skilled in finding whales while being careful not to harm or harass them.

From land...  It is possible to see gray whales from the rocks on the North Jetty at the southern end of Ocean Shores.  This is possible on clear days when the whales cooperate by coming close to the rocks.  Sometimes juvenile whales swim inside Grays Harbor and can be seen with binoculars from the observation tower in Westport.  Of course on land you must be in the right place at the right time to spot gray whales.  You can't count on seeing them on any given day - after all, they are wild creatures of the deep.

How to Spot a Whale

Spouts... The most obvious way to spot a whale is to look for spouts or "blows".  These spouts can be 10 to 12 feet high and are produced when the whale exhales air from its lungs.  Whales usually exhale every four or five minutes.  On occasion, three or four whales will be seen thrashing about near the surface with a faster breathing pattern.  These are usually juvenile whales that are practicing mating.

Whale foot prints...  Sometimes, when a whale is moving under water, the energy from the tail movement produces a slick spot on the surface of the water.  These slick spots are called "whale footprints".

Spyhopping...  Whales have a habit of coming up slowly so that their eyes are just above the surface of the water.  The rest of their body is in a vertical position as they look around above the water.  At this point we often jest; who is watching whom?  Breaching, where the whale's body comes high in the water and makes a huge splash, is rare in Washington waters.

What to Bring

If you go out on a Whale Watching Charter trip, we suggest that you bring: warm clothes, rubber-soled shoes, binoculars, a camera and/or video camera, and, if possible, rain gear.  While most boats do not serve food onboard, you are welcome to bring your own snacks.

The Pacific Gray Whale

The Pacific gray whale is the most frequently observed large whale along the west coast of the United States.  It belongs to a group of whales known as the baleen or mysticeti whales.  Their large size, paired blowholes and lack of teeth characterize this group of whales.  Instead of teeth, they have numerous baleen plates suspended from their upper jaws.  The frayed margins of these plates form a filter which the whales use for straining food from the ocean floor.

The female gray whale is slightly larger than the male.  At maturity, females are about 45 feet long and males about 42 feet in length.  A full-grown gray whale weighs about 45 tons.  Gray whales have a mottled gray skin pattern which is a result of barnacles attaching themselves to the whale's skin, especially around the head.  These whales have a low dorsal hump, followed by 9-13 knobs along the back.  The tail flukes are very broad and are often raised clear of the water when a deep dive is begun.

In the later part of the 19th century, commercial whalers depleted the Pacific gray whale population.  However, the number of Pacific gray whales has recovered during the past 100 years and is now at pre-commercial levels.  It is now estimated that there are in excess of 22,000 Pacific gray whales.

During the months that they are in the Bering and Chukchi seas, gray whales do most of their feeding.  They eat tons of small crustaceans (shrimp like animals) called amphipods which occur in astounding numbers in the cold, shallow waters of the polar oceans.  Gray whales are the only species of whales that feed on the sea floor.  Typically, a gray whale dives to the sea floor and stirs up the mud by squirting a jet of water out of its mouth.  It gulps the suspended food and water, filters the water back into the ocean, and then swallows the food trapped in its mouth.  Occasionally, gray whales are observed feeding on schools of fish, floating or swimming crustaceans, or small animals in kelp beds.

In 1937, the killing of gray whales was forbidden by an international agreement.  Today, the International Whaling Commission (IWC) has 30 member countries that have tried to manage whale hunting.  In 1983, they voted 27 to 3 to end commercial whaling by 1986.  However, currently Japan, Iceland and Norway continue whale hunting under the guise of "scientific research".  Most of these whales end up in commercial markets in Japan.

In 1978, the IWC removed the Pacific gray whale from its protected species list and returned it to management stock status, with an allowed harvest of 179 whales by Siberian Eskimos.  The gray whale may soon be removed from the unity state endangered species list because the 1991 population was equal to or larger than pre-hunting population numbers.  In 1988, Mexico created a 7.2 million acre whale reserve along the coast of Baja, California which will enhance the mating and breeding activities of gray whales.  Thus, the future looks bright for the Pacific gray whale.


Bird Watching Trips

Join us this season for one of our all day pelagic birdwatching trips to Grays Canyon, a submarine canyon which lies 35 nautical miles due west from the mouth of Grays Harbor, on the edge of the North American continental shelf. The outer half of the shelf and the Canyon support a vast array of marine life. In addition to regular species like Black-footed Albatross and Fork-tailed Storm-Petrel, our trips feature seasonal species such as Laysan Albatross, Flesh-footed, Short-tailed, and Buller's Shearwaters, and South Polar Skua among many other offshore species. You may wish to choose one of our mid-summer Outer Slope trips, when we will take you further offshore looking for Leach's Storm-Petrel.

Our trips usually have at least two experienced and knowledgeable spotters/leaders onboard. The leaders are there to spot the birds, and to answer questions about identification issues, seabird biology, marine mammals and oceanography, so don't be afraid to ask should a question come to mind!

Possible Species / Season

Birds that can be expected on most or all April - October trips:


Black-footed Albatross, Northern Fulmar, Sooty Shearwater, Pink-footed Shearwater, Fork-tailed Storm-Petrel, Red-necked and Red Phalaropes, Pomarine Jaeger, Parasitic Jaeger, Sabine's Gull, California Gull, Western Gull, Glaucous-winged Gull, Common Murre, Pigeon Guillemot, Cassin's Auklet, Rhinocerous Auklet, Tufted Puffin.

Other regular species and the best time to see them:

Flesh-footed Shearwater (May, and late September - October), Buller's Shearwater (late August - October), Short-tailed Shearwater (January-April and late September - October), Leach's Storm-Petrel (July), South Polar Skua (August - October), Long-tailed Jaeger (July - early September), Thayer's Gull (October - April), Arctic Tern (July - September).

Grays Canyon trips leave from float #10 in Westport at 6:00, 6:30, or 7:00 a.m. depending on the time of year. Outer Slope trips leave the dock at 5:30. We return to the Westport Marina between 3:00 and 4:00 p.m. unless Grays Harbor bar conditions warrant an earlier time. Arrive at the boat at least 15 minutes prior to the departure time.

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