Mid March to April is the peak time to see gray whales along the South Beach during their northern migration. Gray whales pass by from February through May however. Some of the best onshore whale watching is from the beach at Westport Light State Park accessible at the end of West Ocean Ave and Westhaven State Park accessible from Montesano Street near the marina district. Bring binoculars if you have them because it makes viewing much easier and more enjoyable.
Look west from the beach or sand dunes, toward the ocean. The whales are migrating from the south to the north and will be traveling from your left to your right when facing the ocean. Expect them to be moving at a steady speed of four or five knots (about five miles per hour). Gray whales like coastal waters and are often found within a half mile of the coast. Because of this, gray whales are some of the best known cetaceans.
The Blow or Spout
Migrating Gray whales have predictable breathing patterns, generally blowing 3-5 times in 15-45 second intervals before raising its fluke and then diving for 3-5 minutes. After watching an individual Gray Whale you will be able to anticipate its unique rhythm of breaths and dives, and where it will surface next. A Gray whale can dive up to 15 minutes and travels at about 5 miles per hour. Gray whales are often seen "spy-hopping" where a whale sticks its head straight up out of the water, perhaps to make note of land features during migration or as a means of social interaction.
A gray whale's blow is up to 15 feet high, and each blow is visible for about 5 seconds. When warm, moist air exhaled from the animals' lungs, meets the cool air at the ocean surface, it creates the bushy column we call a blow, or spout. Anticipate that the whale will dive for 3 to 6 minutes, then surface for 3 to 5 blows in row, 30 to 50 seconds apart, before diving deep for 3 to 6 minutes again.
The Flukes (Tail)
Before making a long, deep dive, a gray whale often displays its 12 foot wide fan shaped flukes, or tail. The weight of the tail above the whale's body helps the whale to dive deep. The gray whale normally swims about 5 miles per hour about the speed of a child on a bicycle. The flukes have no bones and connect to the body and tail muscles by banks of tendons.
The Knuckled Back
If the lighting is right, and if the whale is close enough, it is possible to see the back of a gray whale during and after the blow. It is shiny and black or gray, with a knuckled ridge along the spine. After the whale submerges you may note an elongated, smooth oval of calm water, known as a footprint, where the whale has been.
Breach and Splash
Gray whales occasionally hurl themselves out of the water and plunge back in with a tremendous splash! This is called a whale breach. Scientist do not know why gray whales do this, but it is very exciting sight to see! Sometimes other whales in the area will copy this behavior, so keep your eyes open.