"There's one." "Did you see that one?" "There's another one." "Look at those two out there by the green buoy!"
These are exclamations that echo throughout the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center each spring. The voices are coming from kids, their parents and the excited volunteers who are doing most of the pointing. Out beyond the tip of the North Jetty can be seen a distant blow, then another, then another. Although whale watching from the vantage of the interpretive center doesn't reward the whale watcher with close-up encounters, it is satisfying nonetheless. Just knowing those huge creatures are passing by the mouth of the Columbia River is inspiring. The sheer quantity is what most impresses - one day last year 178 whales were spotted in less than four hours!
The arrival of the gray whales in late March and early April is a sign of spring that takes some effort to find. Mother whales sometimes lead their calves close to North Head to feed among the rocks, but visitors to the cape rarely have the opportunity to view them so close. Many visitors are not from the coast and watching for whales provides a great excuse for them to look long and hard out into the horizon, watching the dance of the distant waves. Whale watching can be rewarding even without ever seeing a whale, of course it's nicer when you do.
While the Lewis and Clark Expedition was in the Columbia-Pacific region, members of the group did their own kind of whale watching. One of the more interesting whale anecdotes from the Corps of Discovery's stay involves Sacagawea's desire to see the ocean. It was early January 1806 and Capt. Clark had heard about a whale that had washed up on the shore. After sampling the meat, members of the expedition left Fort Clatsop in search of additional blubber and meat for both food and oil. Shortly after Clark and a few men had left to go see the whale, Sacagawea caught up with them and successfully pleaded to be allowed to join the tour.
To maximize your own chances of seeing a whale, choose a day when the ocean is calm and winds are light. Early morning is best. Don't forget foul-weather clothing and mud-worthy hiking boots, bottled water, binoculars and a camera.
For more information, visit www.whalespoken.org.