I was extremely lucky to receive college credits through Oregon State University Hatfield Marine Science Center for a Marine Biology trip in Newport, Oregon. At first, I signed up for this class to get rid of my fear of birds. My mission to check off my number one fear was completed. Aside from that, this trip was more than just dealing with my fear of birds. I was introduced to my love for orcas. One that I would have never expected.
The Oregon State University marine biology program is impressive and I am grateful to get the opportunity to meet wonderful people who are a part of this program that I have built friendships with. Although, I am not a marine biology major, I have always had a strong love and interest in the ocean along with the animals that occupy it. Learning more about Oregon's sea life is a desire of mine. Oregon's ocean is somewhat a mystery to me still. Especially with the diverse species of sharks, porpoises, whales, seals and fish that establish their home in Oregon waters. It was certainly a unique opportunity that not many universities in the US would be able to offer. Definitely, it was an exhilarating experience to see orcas, gray whales, pacific white sided dolphins, harbor porpoises, seals, sea lions and blue footed boobies in the wild.
When I have gone surfing off the Oregon coast, I have seen blue footed boobies and dolphins. Whales from my porch. Occasionally, I have run ins with harbor seals and seal lions, then immediately get out of the water as I am wearing a wet suit. It is common for me to see them on the beach as well when I am walking my dog. Then I turn around to respect their privacy. After all, I am just a visitor to their home in their domain. It doesn't matter if I am a daily visitor, they still need respect that they deserve at their spot. A perspective I have learned over the years passed down from generation to generation in my family.
For a majority of my life, I have spent all of my time in Hawaiian waters and that domain is familiar to me. In the past seven years, I have been acquainting myself with Oregon's ocean life and terrain. It never seizes to amaze me the differences between Oregon's sea life and Hawaii's sea life. Although both places share the Pacific Ocean, they are vastly dissimilar. Each location offering a different kind of beauty.
Overall, I can say that these encounters with orcas, gray whales, dolphins and seals are very special to me. I am blessed to have witnessed these animals in their home off the Oregon Coast.
First Day of the Trip:
Getting to Know Newport
Let the paperwork begin! That would be the best description of the first few hours of the day. After hours of being in a classroom, we then went to the Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport and had a great time. We mostly studied birds such as pelicans, seagulls, puffins and blue footed boobies on the first day. We had the opportunity to take a behind the scenes tour and learn more about the Oregon Coast Aquarium. Then we went to the Oregon Coast Yaquina Bay Lighthouse to observe birds, seals and whales located in the area. The next stop was South Beach State Park. We parked near the jetty and saw many sea lions, along with many species of birds. At this point we continued to take notes and fill our paperwork packet. Later, we made the decision to play beach volleyball and call it a day. I chose to go back home to Lincoln City to spend time with my family and have rest to be ready for the big day ahead of me to finish the marine biology trip.
Second Day of the Trip:
6:08 am; Wake up get ready for the day leave Roads End driving down to Newport
7:12 am; Meet up with my friends and classmates to discuss our goals for the day
7:35 am; Small breakfast and admire the sea lions on the docks in Newport
8:09 am; Load the trawler, shuffle to find a good spot with friends and look up at Yaquina Bay Bridge as we sailed under
? am or pm; Lost track of time after first gray whale sighting of the day on the way to Yaquina Head Lighthouse
Specific instructions from our professor that whale sightings are rare and that we are to ditch studying birds to learn about sharks, whales, dolphins, seals and anything else that comes our way! (Certainly one of my favorite professors.)
We spotted three gray whales near Yaquina Head Lighthouse. One kept jumping out of the water and splashing. It was the first time I had seen a whale this close before. Even when I am surfing, that is something I have never seen in my life until that very moment.
Then we spotted pacific white sided dolphins that swam beside our boat.
The captain let me steer the boat for at least five minutes and then I left to go see more gray whales. Our professor spotted a harbor porpoise and I had never seen one before. All of these whales and porpoises were close to our boat.
On our way back to Yaquina Bay, near Agate beach is when our team first spotted a pod of orcas. They were not to far away from surfers. It was amazing to see these beautiful creatures. I couldn't help but notice how curious orcas are.
We followed them all the way to Yaquina Bay State Recreation Site right off the coast. Many sea lions had decided to plant themselves on a buoy in the presence of orcas. Their main goal was to avoid orcas at all costs and would wait as long as possible for orcas to leave. They never left their spots on the buoy when we were watching them. The orcas pod consisted of two adult size orcas with two orca calves (babies). It was challenging to follow them on the boat because they would travel very fast and dive under for long periods. To see orca whales in the wild was an experience that truly excited me. I hope to see them again someday and look forward to them passing by the Oregon Coast.
When we arrived back to Yaquina Bay, our team had full crab pots. All of us brought back crab to our folks.
My friends and I decided to end the day with a bowl of clam chowder. I traveled back up the road to Roads End in Lincoln City to share my good fortune with my family. Then took my golden retriever Kona and rottweiler Tucson for a sunset walk on the beach.
What occurred attracted all of our team to pursue an odyssey in knowing more about these captivating animals. Some of my friends chose to do it professionally, others on the weekend when fishing off the Oregon coast and for a small group of us, seeing them when we surf Oregon. I am fortunate to have a beach house in Lincoln City where I am able to spend a lot of time at the beach learning about the animals that occupy the Oregon Coast. Currently, researchers believe that orcas make Oregon waters their home for many months out of the year during winter and spring. I patiently wait for their rare arrival each year.