After the pandemic, Whale Watching Week returns in person to Oregon

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Oregon’s Whale Watch Week returned in person for the first time since the pandemic began Wednesday, attracting tourists hoping to catch a glimpse of gray whales that migrate to the state’s coastline each year.

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 spokesman for Oregon State Parks, which organized the event, described scenes of excited spectators as several people were spotted.

“She saw the spray and yelled,” Stefanie Knowlton told The Associated Press by phone, watching volunteers at the center as the crowd cheered in the background. “There’s just so much energy. You can really feel people getting ready to come back and watch the whales together.”

On Sunday, volunteers will work in 17 state parks along the coast to help spot the nearly 20,000 gray whales that make their way south to Mexico each year.

One of the sites, Mills Point, was closed on Wednesday after strong winds brought down trees the previous day, Knowlton said.

Oregon State Parks organizes whale watching twice a year, with gray whales migrating south in winter and returning to the northern waters near Alaska in spring.

The central Oregon coast is also a whale-watching hotspot from June to mid-November, when gray whales that stay in the state’s coastal waters during their summer migration come closer to shore to feed, according to the agency.

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Claire Rush is a member of the Associated Press/State Council News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service project that puts journalists in local newsrooms to report on underreported issues. Follow Claire on Twitter.

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