Outdoors

Prime season for whale watching approaches as gray whales make their way north

Gray whales have begun their spring migration, which will take them more than 10,000 miles from the warm waters off Mexico to the Bering Sea.

During their journey, the estimated 23,000 whales will cruise past the Washington coast. Some even take a break and spend time in the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

WHEN: The best time to look for whale is March-May as the gray whales make their way from their breeding grounds off Baja California to their summer feeding grounds in the North Pacific. Early mornings with calm ocean conditions offer the best chance for spotting whales from shore.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: The best way to spot a gray — from land or sea — is to look for spouts of water that can reach 10-15 feet in the air when the whale surfaces and exhales.

A gray whale can grow to more than 45 feet long and weigh as much as 70,000 pounds. That means they can make a large splash should they decide to come out of the water.

WHERE TO LOOK: The majority of gray whales will cruise along the Washington coast. That makes high locations from Cape Disappointment to Cape Flattery prime viewing spots. Having binoculars along will help you scan the ocean waters farther out from your location.

Here are some recommended locations:

Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center and North Head Lighthouse at Cape Disappointment State Park: Volunteers will be stationed at the center during Whale Watching Week, March 21-28.

Olympic National Park: Any high bluffs in the coastal portion of the park should give you a chance to see whales. Kalaloch is a good spot, as is the Destruction Island viewpoint, La Push and Rialto Beach.

Cape Flattery Trail: From the observation decks at the end of the 0.75-mile you can look out over the ocean and the mouth of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The trail is on Makah Tribe land, and a recreation permit is required.

Westport: The observation tower at the west end of the downtown area offers a good viewing spot to watch whales that make their way into Grays Harbor.

Some whales, however, will make a right turn into the Strait of Juan de Fuca. They often make it as far into the Salish Sea as Whidbey and Camano islands, feeding on ghost shrimp. The town of Langley on Whidbey Island will hold its annual Welcome the Whales festivities April 18-19.

Along the Strait, the Shipwreck Point conservation area on state Route 112 is an option, as is the Sekiu overlook on the same highway. Closer to Port Angeles are Salt Creek Recreation Area and Freshwater Bay County Park.

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