You’ll never forget the first time you spot a whale. From the initial sighting of the spray rising from the ocean swells, to the smell of the fishy odor of the spout, your first glimpse of a whale is something that you reminisce about for your entire life. Every April, just off the breaking waves along the Washington Coast, 18,000 gray whales make their way slowly up the Washington Coast. Heading north to the cold, food-filled waters of Alaska, the gray whales have returned, and can be spotted in an endless series of pods from late March to early May.
Gray whales are huge, weighing up to 80,000 pounds and measuring up to 49 feet in length. Living up to 70 years, feeding mostly on tiny shrimp-like animals that dwell in the ocean floor, the whales make this migration every spring, with newborns lingering behind them. The entire migration is amazing and visiting in person is strongly encouraged. Whale watching can be a highlight of the spring; a timeless tradition passed on to generation after generation in hopes to have better harmony and understanding with nature.
It might seem daunting to find a whale in the ocean, but you don’t need a sense of vengeance like Captain Ahab to track down these massive mammals. Instead, all you need is a sense of adventure, a day of exploration and a few tips on how and where to see gray whales off the Washington Coast.
Learn about Gray Whales and Whaling
One great destination to learn about Gray Whales and their historical importance to the local economy is the Maritime Museum in Westport. With an entire room highlighting Grays Harbor’s whaling past, including locations, pictures and relics from the long past days, the museum is a perfect stop on your Westport whaling adventure.
The ranger station and resort at Olympic National Park’s Kalaloch region also has some information about whales, including occasional talks from NPS rangers about the migration and whales. Contact the park to discover the locations and dates of these talks.
Further north, the Makah Museum on the Makah Reservation at Neah Bay has one of the best exhibits in the state on local tribes, whales, whaling and the connection between whales and local survival. The drive to get here might be a bit long, but combining a stop at Cape Flattery with the museum will almost guarantee you a whale sighting off in the distance.
Go Whale Watching
In Grays Harbor, opportunities to see gray whales during the spring months are quite prevalent. While you can stand on the coast and scan around for hours with a spotting scope or pair of binoculars, the best bet to see a gray whale is with the tours offered by Ocean Sportfishing Charters in Westport. The 2.5 hour tours give you fantastic opportunities to see the massive whales and get close enough to smell their spray. Ocean Sportfishing Charters offers whale watching tours March through May, seven days a week. The tour is fantastic and fun for everyone, taking guests out on their family-friendly tours and seeing whales almost every single trip. Working with fishing boats and other sources, the guides know where the whales are at all times, making for an incredible day off the Washington Coast.
Drive the Whale Trail
During the months of March and April, the Washington coast becomes a hotbed of whale action from Neah Bay to Longview. Passing by within one-half-mile of the breaking waves, up to 30 whales an hour swim by the coastal communities during the peak of the migration. Locally, the Whale Trail’s main areas of emphasis are around the northern Olympic Coast, from Kalaloch Beach to Cape Flattery. In the months of March, April and early May, the mass migration of Gray Whales brings tourists and locals out in droves, hoping to catch a glimpse of these massive mammals. Thanks to their large size, gray whales can be seen from the numerous vantage points along the Whale Trail, which are marked by signs and informational displays up and down the Washington Coast.
The best places to see whales along the Whale Trail are at one of the seven designated viewing areas along the coast. Your best bet, close to Grays Harbor is to head north to Kalaloch and visit one of their three best spots. A stop at South Beach, Kalaloch Lodge and the Destruction Island Viewpoint along Highway 101 should, at the very least, get you a glimpse of a spout off in the distance. Further north, whales can be spotted offshore from the beaches of LaPush, as well as Olympic National Park’s Shi Shi Beach and Cape Alava. For any of the destinations, you’ll need to bring binoculars or a spotting scope and plan on heading out during clear weather.