It's migration season for gray whales and the Pacific coast is ripe for wildlife-spotting opportunities right now, as the friendly giants of the ocean make their annual round-trip from Alaska to Mexico.
Right now gray whales are travelling from their feeding grounds in the cold waters of Alaska to the warm-water lagoons of Baja, Mexico for breeding season, before making their way back north again. It's an annual journey that sees them undertake the longest migration of any mammal; a round-trip of close to 20,000km each year, clocking an average 60 to 80km each day. The season generally runs from late November until April, though some whales can be found feeding in the Pacific Northwest as late as June. Fortunately for wildlife-watchers, gray whales often swim close enough to shore to be spotted from land. If you'd like to get up close with them this spring, here are some of the best spots to do it:
About 200 gray whales feed along the coast of Vancouver Island each year, specifically in Ucluelet, Tofino and Sooke. Vancouver Island even celebrates their arrival with the annual Pacific Rim Whale Festival, a coastal celebration with a conservation angle. Whale-watching is a great way to get acquainted with these magnificent marine mammals and Tourism Vancouver has plenty of details on tours here.
Late March until June is typically the best time to spot gray whales on the Oregon coast as they continue their migratory route back north. After that, from June to mid-November you might be lucky to see them feeding along the Central Coast. Each year, Oregon invites volunteers to help them track whales in prime viewing spots. If you want to take part this year, from March 21 - 29, you can sign up here.
According to Visit California, the state tourism board, some of the best spots for whale-watching are Mendocino; the San Francisco Bay Area (where experts say about 94% of migrating gray whales pass by), Santa Cruz; Moss Landing and Monterey. In Los Angeles too, there are excellent vantage points, as well as Orange County, the Channel Islands National Park and San Diego County. More information on tours can be found here.
The granddaddy of gray whale-watching spots is the breeding grounds of Baja California. Pregnant mothers usually arrive in January and by February the bulk of the whales have joined them, giving birth and mating. Mid-February to late March is peak season in Laguna San Ignacio, though gray whales can be found in Magdalena Bay a month earlier.