Experiencing the Gray Whale Migration

Mar 29, 2018 | Beach, Wildlife, Winter

Gray whales annually pass by the Peninsula twice each year, once on their migration from the Arctic to their wintering and breeding grounds in Southern California and Mexico and on the return trip from the southern climes.

Each winter Pacific Gray Whales pass by the Peninsula after spending the summer feeding in the food-rich waters of the Arctic. Heading south along the Pacific coast to the bays of Baja California, where they mate and nurse their young, you can witness the annual winter journey.

Early January is the peak of the migration, but whales can be spotted mid-December through early February. The heights around the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center and North Head Lighthouse offer the best viewing. Bring binoculars if you have them.

The northward migrations begin mid-March. The immature whales, adult males, and females without calves are the first to head north, passing the Peninsula in March and April. Later, females with calves come along at a slightly slower rate, passing the Washington coast in May.

How to Whale Watch

Choose a location

Find a spot like North Head, where the land juts into the ocean and there is plenty of elevation. The North Head Lighthouse and Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center are excellent choices. Both are located in Cape Disappointment State Park, so a Discover Pass is required.

Choose a time

Pick early morning hours when conditions are usually more favorable prior to the onset of winds and their accompanying whitecaps.

Choose weather that favors a calm ocean. Don’t go during or just after a heavy storm. Overcast days are good because there is little glare.

What to look for

Scan the horizon and look for the blow, the whale’s vapor, water or condensation is blown up to 12 feet in the air when the whale exhales.

Once a blow is located, stay with it. Where one blow is viewed, others will follow either from the same whale or others.

Whales have periodic blow patterns during their migration, making up to a half dozen short, shallow dives before a prolonged dive of up to 10 minutes (more generally 3 to 5 minutes).

Frequently, the animals leave turbulent eddies along the surface after short dives.

Usually, only a small portion of the whale’s head and back show during a blow. Diving whales, where the rear fin (fluke) is exposed, or breaching, where the whale jumps nearly completely out of the water, are quite rare.

Whale Watching Terminology


75% of the body vertically rises out of the sea. If you see this once it should be repeated several times, so keep your eyes peeled.

Spy Hopping

The head arises vertically from the sea. The whale is literally taking a peek at what’s above water.

Blow, Plume or Spout

A mist 6 to 12 feet in height as the whale exhales. You will note the blow every 1 or 2 minutes at 100-yard intervals 3 or 4 times, then often you will see the flukes (tail fins) as the whale prepares for a deeper dive. These dives frequently last 3 to 10 minutes or longer.

Gray Whale Facts

  • Grays have existed for approximately 10 million years.
  • The whales travel at about 6 miles per hour.
  • The spring migration is north to the Bering and Chukchi seas to feed. The winter migration is to the warm waters of Southern and Baja California for breeding and giving birth. The total distance is about 5,500 miles.
  • After a gestation period of 13 months, the calves weigh almost 2,000 pounds at birth and are 15 feet long. They nurse for about eight months.
  • Gray whales have an average lifespan of 50 years. Although considered a medium-sized baleen whale, they grow to between 40 and 50 feet in length and attain weights of 30 to 40 tons.
  • Baleen is a filtering substance much like a fingernail. Whale baleen filters scoop up water and retain food. Gray whales do not have teeth and eat bottom dwellers: beach hopper-like animals, worms, and little clams.
  • In the past 135 years, the Gray has been hunted to near extinction twice but has once again reached a population of about 23,000 animals. These are the only grays left on earth and have been protected since 1946.
  • These animals are thought to be poor navigators and travel close to the shore during migration in water no deeper than 300 feet though more often in water only 20 to 30 fathoms (120-180 feet).
  • Although they do not sing, the Grays do emit grunts, moans and short bursts of a “bong-bong-bong” sound. Grays have good vision also though their habitat is extremely murky.

Explore more of what Pacific County has to offer.

7 Benefits of a Coastal Visit

The siren song of the ocean has seduced travelers for centuries, especially when it comes to their health. Research has shown that the benefits of a coastal visit can improve wellness, vitality, and mood. Rhythmic waves, the salty air, and unparalleled recreational...

Celebrate the SEA-son in Pacific County

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! The holidays are upon us, and it’s time to be merry and bright. One of our favorite things about our coastal towns is that you can enjoy the classic holiday traditions with a little twist. Join us as we show you how special it...

Eight Reasons to Visit a Beach Town During the Off-Season

When the summer sun is high and the heat is toasting your skin, it’s easy to see why the crowds flock to the sandy seashell shores. But did you know these same coastal towns take on wintery delight when the seasons change? With wide open spaces, charming local events,...

10 Places to Kiss

Want to sweep your sweetheart off their feet?  Pacific County is home to many scenic areas and fun places to share a romantic moment with your boo. Share a smooch at these places: Waikiki Beach Tucked away in Cape Disappointment State Park is a cliff-lined sandy cove....

Amazing Winter Hikes on the Long Beach Peninsula

  Let's be honest - hiking on the Long Beach Peninsula is always amazing. But if you find yourself here during the magical winter months, here are some hikes that will leave you in awe.   The North Head Lighthouse Trail is an ADA accessible, .75 mile loop...

How to Go Storm Watching on the Long Beach Peninsula

The best places for storm watching, what you need to bring, and tips for storm watching on the Long Beach Peninsula.

Festive Season Event Guide

The festive season on the peninsula is always a blast!  Mark your calendars for these fun holiday events: November 25-27: Holidays at the Beach A family favorite, Holidays at the Beach kicks off the day after Thanksgiving. Meet Santa, snuggle up in pajamas to watch...

9 Winter Things To Do In Pacific County

  The “hushed season” is the perfect time to visit Pacific County. Whether you’re exploring vast beach, getting a drink at a pub, or tucking into a warm meal at a cozy restaurant, you're bound to have a great time.  Here are nine of our favorite winter things to...

Shop Small, Shop Coastal

Find a gift that's unique and fun for your loved ones this year. Pacific County is a place governed by tides, surrounded by natural beauty, and supported by one-of-a-kind small businesses. Every dollar spent in these cozy coastal and river towns has a big impact on...

9 Romantic Places to Eat on the Long Beach Peninsula

There’s nothing quite like sharing a meal and a bottle of wine with someone special, especially when you’re at the beach. From intimate settings to mouthwatering flavors, these eight restaurants are sure to impress.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This