Night 14: Whale Watching

Trip Start Jun 20, 2012
Trip End Jul 18, 2012

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Beverly Beach State Park

Flag of United States  , Oregon
Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Today we drove 120 miles back and forth along US-101. We didn't get very far and we didn't plan on it. Weather started cold with drizzle, but quickly turned partly cloudy and warmed up a few degrees.

It seemed as if the rain stopped, but it was still cloudy. Campers around us heard that the weather would be good for a couple days. Andrew grabbed the umbrella that I kept outside the tent and opened it. Almost as soon as he did a steady rain came down. I hurriedly broke camp and did a poor job fitting it all into the box in my rush.

When I was done, I tried to call a charter I had researched before our trip to see if the weather was good for a whale watching cruise in Depoe Bay, about 40 miles to the south. Since they were running, we were off on a mission. Tradewinds Charter Service had a space for each  
of us on their first afternoon outing into the Pacific aboard the fishing boat Kadaho.

We raced down the coast, through the tight traffic of Lincoln City and made it to Depoe Bay in time. The first time I noticed Depoe Bay last year, it was a creepy peopleless fishing town. This time it was bustling with activity and tourists. Obviously, it is a moody town. We had some trouble finding parking even though there is plenty of free parking next to the taffy shops and the state-run whale watching center.

We prepared for our journey as a boat pulled into the dock at the "world's smallest harbor" after a day in the "world's biggest ocean." The charter deckhands unloaded half a dozen plastic totes full of salmon and crabs. The fish cleaners got to work gutting and preparing the fish. As soon as the boat pulled in, a trio of harbor seals raced to the water under the cleaners and lifted their heads up out of the water, hoping for a scrap to fall. They looked more like fogs than they usually do.

Our boat arrived a bit later after refueling across the harbor and we invited aboard by the deckhand.He was an older man with a white fumanchu moustache and a red bandana about his neck. His tattoos were worn out and tired on his wrinkly arms, but he was strong and eager for his work as a much younger man.

The captain said he just saw a whale with another group and would head right out to where he last saw it. Depoe Bay is home to a collection of resident gray whales. The captains know each one by personality. The migrating whales are only seen in spring and fall. Occasinally an  
orca or blue whale passes by, but it is rare. The state keeps a count of orcas as if they were bears or cougars. The orca feasts on the young greys from time to time, but are also fans of harbor seals and sea lions as meals.

The boat pulled under the US-101 bridge and the waves kicked in hard. When Magellan or whoever named the Pacific, he really got it wrong. The Pacific is cold and pounds the beach with waves mercilessly. It is one of the reasons we saw surfers at many if the beaches we visited.

As the boat pulled into the ocean, we were rocking and rolling. The deckhand didn't seem phased so I went with it. It reminded me a bit of a charter trip I took out into Lake Michigan on a windy day. The waves tossed us around and I remember everyone on board wretchibgbexcept for me. I did not partake in the huge sandwich that my shipmates did. For this trip I prepared similarly and did not touch a bite before sailing.

We sailed up to the north where the captain saw a whale earlier. Andrew sat in my lap unsure about the noisy ship motor. I reminded him to look at the shore to avoid seasickness, but did not tell him about seasickness. I believe people get seasick mostly because they are expecting to be seasick.

As we sailed everyone kept a lookout for spouts. A grey spouts in threes, each separated by about 45 seconds, before diving a few hundred yards for about 3 minutes. The spout is about ten feet high. We saw nothing. We never went far from the shore. The captain said the whales swim close to shore catching tiny shrimp in their baleen. The foamy water around shore was evidence of the phytoplankton that they shrmp eat.

Nothing... So we turned around and headed north, hoping our luck would change. I recognized some of the landmarks we passed and vowed to try these spots from shore if the trip failed to find anything.

Nothing... We did enjoy the cruise and getting out onto the ocean. For only $18 an hour, I was not going to complain. With Andrew coming along (he was free), I wasn't sure how he would take the trip. They did everything they could do to find whales, but it was no use. Nothing. But there was the spectacular view and the salty wind and spray. There were 15 foot vomit-inducing (for two) swells. I enjoyed the cruise and hope next time to see a whale.

We proceeded back to harbor and unloaded. Our ship was greeted by the begging seals who were very disappointed to find we weren't a fishing charter. We left the harbor and crossed to see the whale watching center. It hung full size skeletons of seals and sea lions, but most  
of the VC was under repair. Far Out in sea we could see two empty container ships and another large ship. This trio must have made the Coast Guard concerned because they sounded the alarm and sent out a boat and helicopter to investigate.

We walked back to the van and researched possible campgrounds. The nearby state park at Beverly Beach had room for us. It was five miles down the road. It is rare on a holiday weekend to fund state sites so we took it and set up camp. The site was next to a marsh that was filled with Jurassic looking ferns and plants with  four by two foot leaves fanning out. These were surrounded by moss covered ferns.

We drove back up toward Depoe stopping at Otter Rock a mile away. Here is the open topped sea cave known as Devil's Punchbowl. Mo's has a tiny grill next door where they prepare a sampling of their menu. I ordered clam fritters, which deepened my new found love for clams.  
From here we could see a lighthouse to the south.

  Down the road, we visited Yaquina Head Lighthouse. The beach is made up of large smooth volcanic rocks. They crunch under foot.  Driftwood decorated the beach here and there. In the ricks at sea, tide pools were forming in the low tide. BLM rangers were there to make sure no  
one did anything stupid. We walked around the shallows peering into the most amazing and colorful tide pools. Huge starfish, angry little fish camaflouged with the rocks, anenome, purple urchins... It was a soup of life. Mures filled the skies. Closer to the lighthouse, in the wind, thousands of mures sang in delight on their offshore rookeries.

We drove back up to Depoe Bay to look for whales. Past Depoe Bay, we pulled to one I'd the spots our cruise passed by: Boiler Bay SP. As we pulled in we saw a spout! Yes, there were at least two grey whales feeding right offshore. I told Jessica that I wish we would have thought to take a boat to this exact place... Oh, yes, we did.

We watched the whales puff out a spout. Once, twice, thrice... And then you'd see a flipper or a big black body part as the whale turned back under the swells. A few minutes later it was back looking for air. You could gear the breathing from far away. Nothing could scare an animal this big. They were magnificent dancing around down in Boiler Bay. What a wonderful creation!

About 40 minutes later, we decided to give it a rest and head over to see fireworks. There was supposed to be a big Fourth of July celebration in Depoe Bay, but the federal government, hours before they were set to go down, forced Depoe Bay to give up it's twenty year tradition in fear that it might be upset animals offshore. The law against fireworks was 94 years old and this was the year that they chose to enforce it.

Lucky for us the town of Waldport about 30 miles away didn't care about laws. On the way we stopped at Otter Rock Mo's again for a pound of clams, steamed and soaked in garlic and wine. We took the order to go for fireworks fare. We drove through the large harbor town of Newport, headquarters for the Coast Guard's Pacific fleet. Here we stopped for some Burger King to add to our feast. Soon we were in Waldport, a town we have camped in on past trips.

We saw where the people were sitting and pulled up to grab a spot among the crowd of mostly locals along the river in town. The crowd was rough and weird. Many had built fires in the sand. Some were discussing Depoe Bay's decision not to hold fireworks. The decision made it onto national Fox news, since they probably saw it as more evidence that the communists were taking over America. "Headline: Pinko Whale Huggers Ruin Patriotic Celebration of American Military Might!"

The fireworks took so long to get started that the tide rolling in forced us to change position. We changed position a second time when some long-haired locals decided to build a fire a couple inches from Jessica. Impatient people, half drunk, started blowing off fireworks in the crowd. Eventually and thankfully before any hospitalizations, the real show vegan from across the river.

There they were: the fireworks. It felt like the 4th of July! It was nothing like the fancy pants shows we have in Chicago, but it was nice enough. It included all the dramatic pauses and the halfway fake grand finale that make a good show.

After the show, we sat in a bit of traffic as the state police sifted through the crowd for DUI's and then we were back at Beverly Beach for the night. The night was clear, but very cold.
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