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The Oregon coast is a great place to come and view a variety of wildlife. Enjoy the great diversity of life: from giant whales and barking sea lions, to majestic bald eagles and diving pelicans, to showy Harlequin ducks and flocking shorebirds, to the tiny anemones and crabs inhabiting tidepools. There is always something new to discover. Visit our for locations to visit and view wildlife along the Oregon coast. Maximize your viewing of coastal creatures by bringing binoculars for close-up views.
Whales, Orcas, and Porpoises
Whales migrate along the Oregon coast on their way to their feeding grounds and breeding and calving grounds. Peak times to view them are late December through late March to early April. In addition to migratory animals, there are approximately 200 resident gray whales that live nearly year-round off Oregon. Gray whales, humpbacks, orcas, and sperm whales can all be seen off the coast. For descriptions, visit our page.
Look for whales as they surface to blow a spout of 6-12 feet high, depending on the sex. Gray whales usually surface to breathe 3-5 times before making a deep feeding dive when you can spot their tail flukes. The best time to view whales are on calm days when you won’t confuse whale spouts with whitecaps. While you can see whale spouts with the naked eye, use binoculars for the best viewing. A map of (and additional information for whale watchers) is available from Oregon State Parks.
Pinnipeds – Harbor Seals, Sea Lions, and Elephant Seals
The easiest marine mammals to observe are harbor seals and sea lions. Often seen in bays lounging on piers, tideflats, or sandbars, these animals can be entertaining to watch. Good locations for viewing include the South Jetty of the Columbia River, sandbars in Netarts Bay, near the mouth of the Siletz River, Yaquina Bay between the jetties and along the bay front, sandbars and beaches near the mouth of Alsea Bay, Cape Argo, Rouge Reef, and Simpson Reef. For descriptions, visit our page. Remember to stay away from seals and sea lions as they can become aggressive and are protected by the Marine Mammal Act.
A rarer sighting are which can be seen at Simpson Reef on Shell Island at Cape Arago State Park.
It is normal for seal pups to be left alone for long periods of time while the mother is out hunting and they often will not move when approached. Please remember to stay away from them. If they are in a high traffic area, please call your local State Park so signs can be placed around the animal to tell others to stay away.
If you think a marine mammal is in trouble, please call the Marine Mammal Stranding Network at 800-452-7888.
The bays, jetties, spits, and beaches are great places to see a variety of birds. At the coast, you can spot birds of prey, waterfowl, seabirds, songbirds, and shorebirds. The diversity of birds is highest during spring and fall migrations. Check Bird viewing tips are available from the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Another great resource for birders is the Oregon Coast Birding Trail website, which includes self-guided itineraries for any area of the Oregon Coast and a species checklist. For descriptions of birds species, visit our page. and for lists of recent sightings.
Ducks, Geese, and Pelicans
Huge rafts of waterfowl can be seen in the estuaries and bays during spring and fall migrations. Common species during migrations include surf scoter, bufflehead, American widgeon, northern pintail, ring-necked duck, Brant, merganser, canvasback, redhead, greater and lesser scaup, goldeneye, green-winged teal, and ruddy duck. Some less common species inlcude are long-tailed duck (in Yaquina Bay), Harlequin duck, brown pelican, Eurasian widgeon, white-winged and black scoters, and an occasional Eider.
Birds of Prey
Birds of prey are common at the coast. Bald eagles sometimes perch on the beach, on a mudflat, in the bay or the tops of large trees. In the spring and summer, you might see osprey catching fish in the water and roosting on a nest built on a platform near the water. Peregrine falcons also nest near water on cliffs or bridges over estuaries. Places to see peregrine falcons include Cape Meares and Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area.
Don’t forget the seabirds! There are some common murres and pigeon guillemots in the bays but you’re more likely to see them on rocky islands or in the ocean by cliffs with nesting areas. From May to August, tufted puffins nest on islands at Haystack Rock in Cannon Beach and Face Rock in Bandon. Remember to bring binoculars or a spotting scope to see them. A great time to check out the coast for offshore pelagic seabirds is after a large storm. Check out the guide for information about Oregon’s seabirds, where to view them, and birdwatching etiquette.
During spring and fall, shorebirds gather in flocks along the coast as they migrate. Jetties and beaches are good places to look ,as well as in the bays during mid-low tide as they feed at the water’s edge. If you go out at peak low tide, the birds may be too far out to ID depending on the tide. Some species you’re likely to see include whimbrel, marbled godwit, semi-palmated plover, dunlin, sanderling and western sandpiper. The black oystercatcher and western snowy plover are less common and protected resident species.
Black oystercatchers are easily identifiable with their distinctive black plumage, pink legs, long orange-red bill, and an orange red eye ring framing a bright yellow eye. Nevertheless, they can be difficult to spot since they nest on rocky shores. These monogamous, territorial birds return to the same spot each year and are indicators of a healthy rocky intertidal community. Look for oystercatchers on rocky shores that are inaccessible to ground predators and where there are little human disturbance.
These “sensitive” birds are best viewed from afar. Easily disturbed bird, especially during the nesting season, oystercatchers are listed as sensitive by the state and federally listed as a species of concern. The best chance to see them are near Cape Meares, Depoe Bay, at Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area, Seal Rock State Park, near Cape Perpetua, and many other rocky intertidal areas along the coast.
The western snowy plover is a small shorebird that prefers sandy beaches with little vegetation and is both state and federally listed as Threatened. They are relatively small and can blend into their surroundings with their pale brown and white or buff coloring, so it is possible to unknowingly approach them when walking along the beach. They nest above the high tide line in the sand, leaving them susceptible to a variety of predators and human disturbance.
Habitat alteration by human development, non-native European beach grass that conceals predators, and disturbance by unleashed dogs and motor vehicle use on beaches are the greatest threats to this tiny and important bird. In areas where they are nesting, state and federal land management agencies may close certain sections of beach or put special restrictions in place (e.g. no dogs, leashed dogs, access on wet sand only, etc.). For more information about closures, visit Oregon Parks and Recreation Department’s page. Please obey all closures and follow activity restrictions to help save this struggling bird. If you see a western snowy plover outside a known protected area, please avoid that area of the beach and contact the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (541-867-4558) or your local Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife office.
As you explore around the bays, jetties, and beaches, keep an eye on the shore-side in bushes and trees and also on the ground for various songbirds like kinglets, chickadees, sparrows and warblers. Western meadowlarks are often seen on jetties and spits as they migrate. Other species that are common around the bay include great blue heron, belted kingfisher and cormorants.
Tidepools and Beach Combing
The Oregon Coast offers excellent opportunities for learning about and observing flora and fauna along shorelines. Here in the intertidal, the tides rise and fall twice daily. Be sure to consult a tide table to know if tides are incoming or outgoing when you visit and always keep an eye on the waves to have a safe, enjoyable experience.
Beaches can be more than a place to lounge or fly a kite. In addition to the many types of birds that frequent Oregon’s shores, take a look for other inhabitants at the beach. Check the wrack line where the water deposits shells, algae and kelp, and driftwood that are food and homes to a large variety of unassuming actors. Beach hoppers, beetles, mussels, and gooseneck barnacles are just some of the animals you’ll find here. During the spring and summer, look for mole crabs under the sand. About the size of your thumb, mole crabs camouflage well but often leave tracks and divots and make small holes. Other tracks at the edges of the waterline are made by olive snails, which plow through the sand in search of food. Their colorful shells come in greys, purples, and pinks and have cultural significance to native peoples.
There are many other interesting finds that land ashore. Look for skate egg cases, also known as mermaid purses, and jellyfish-like By-the-Wind Sailor (Velella velella) hydrozoans that can land as huge blue rafts. , which look like and feel like an opaque, bumpy pickle, are colonial tunicates that also wash ashore. Adult Dungeness crabs tend to molt simultaneously; females in the spring and males in the late summer. Molting is the shedding of their exoskeleton (outside hard parts) as they grow. Often people will encounter what they think are a beach littered with dead crab, but really they are crab molts (mass molting PIC).
Looking for ancient life? Wave action also reveals fossils of shelled animals at several locations, including Beverly Beach, Fogarty Creek State Park, Seal Rock, Cape Blanco, and Arcadia Beach.
Rocky shores are some of the most diverse ecosystems in the world. You’ll find all kinds of wonderful creatures – gumboot chitons, giant green anemones, and ochre sea stars, for example –along the rocky shoreline. The Oregon State Parks’ tidepools website has information on where and when to explore, what you can expect to see, and safety tips.
Watch your step! Did you know that barnacles can live up to 10-15 years, or that limpets (cone-shaped snails) are some of the most important grazers on rocky shores? Take care to minimize your impact as you explore Oregon’s rocky shores. Remember to leave things where they are for others to enjoy and to ensure these communities and important habitats persist.
Marine Protected Areas
Oregon hosts seven Marine Gardens, five Marine Reserves, and other marine protected areas. Marine gardens provide education and recreational experiences along beaches and tidepools. With the exception of single mussel and razor clam harvest at Cape Perpetua, marine gardens are “no take” areas. Check the for a list and description of the marine gardens and the opportunities they provide. Oregon’s Marine Reserves prohibit fishing, but are open to many recreational activities including SCUBA diving, wildlife viewing, and tidepooling. Learn more about these opportunities at ODFW’s