Day 150: Seen Any Whales?

Appreciating the ocean’s subtler sights.

May 30, 2015, Lincoln City, Oregon — When I set up my spotting scope this afternoon with friends Anne and Dan Heyerly at Boiler Bay (a promontory on the central Oregon coast), Anne wondered, “How long will it take for someone to ask if we’re watching whales?”

Less than two minutes later, we had our answer. The first person who walked past us stopped, asked if we were taking pictures (no), then said, “Seen any whales?”

You can’t point a scope at the ocean in Oregon without getting asked this question by practically every passer-by. Most people don’t realize that I’d rather look at Common Murres or Tufted Puffins than some animal the size of a house. Here’s how I think of it: If you go searching for whales, you might see some whales. But if you look for birds, you’ll see lots of birds—and you’ll see the whales, too, while you're at it!

The second person who walked by, less than five minutes later, was even more direct. “What are you looking at?” they asked. Anne replied that we were watching birds, and they hesitated for a second before saying, “Well, have you seen any bigger creatures out there?” We said no, and they went, “Bummer!”—as if, without whales, the day was a bust—and walked away.

It wasn’t until we were at a different beach this evening, looking for Tufted Puffins near Pacific City, that someone seemed to understand what we were up to. “Hey, are you guys birdwatching?” asked a guy who seemed genuinely curious. “Yes, we’re looking for puffins!” said Anne, and explained that the puffins nest in burrows on an offshore rock. The guy thought about this for a minute then said, “That makes sense. I see them up close sometimes when I’m out there on my surfboard. Cool!” 

A few minutes later, after having great views of a pair of puffins flying around the rock, Dan, Anne and I were watching the sunset when Anne said, “Hey, there’s a whale!” Sure enough, a regular spout was visible just past the breakers, in front of the puffin rock. So, yes: We saw a whale today, too.

New birds today: 8

Year list: 2699

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