Erik Urdahl founded The Spout, an organization that provides information for whale watchers and whale enthusiasts, back in 2009. Urdahl realized that many people who lived in Oregon and along the coast had never seen a whale before—he wanted to get people excited about them. He describes The Spout as “a how-to guide for whale watching, because that was the thing I just kept discovering. People just don’t know when to come or where to look, but it’s really simple actually.”

Another one of Urdahl’s initiative is to make interpretation more exciting. From his experiences, interpretation can be pretty dry sometimes—it’s hard to get people excited about something. He suggests helping people spot the whales first, which gets them excited, and then trying to backfill with scientific information.

Another way that Urdahl believes science outreach can be done is through art and technology. “We have this approach of going up to somebody and throwing a lot of information at them, whereas you could share some images or maybe a video to get them excited about what’s out there. Once somebody gets an idea of what they could be looking at it seems easier to get them actively engaged in it. I think that interpretation can feel a little stale, particularly with certain generations so it’s sort of on us to find better ways to make connections and get them interested. I think art and tech can help immensely.”

When asked about the best part of running The Spout, Urdahl says, “I did a project one year where I took a bunch of people whale watching for the first time and documented their reactions, which ranged from squeals of delight to awe-struck tears. I followed up with some of those people afterward and discovered that some had taken more of an interest in ocean conservation, which is really the whole point of it. I don’t expect anyone to fall in love with whales after looking at a website or being told how big they are. But if we can get people to make some sort of emotional connection with these animals and their world and combine that with some knowledge, then hopefully they will make decisions in their everyday lives with ocean health and general conservation in mind.”

Check out https://thespout.org/ for more information and how to become a whale watcher!

 

In early August 2018, I was lucky to have a friend take me whale watching with a chartered whale watching company in Depoe Bay, the whale-watching hub on the Oregon coast. We left from the docks on a zodiac with the owner of the business as our captain. The zodiac is a good boat to whale watch from because it’s fairly quiet and it’s easier to get closer to the whales without disturbing them.

We saw a spout pretty early on, so we waited to watch the whale. Our guide was able to tell us that this particular whale is part of the Pacific Coast Feeding Group, a pod of gray whales that does not migrate because of the abundance of food on the Oregon coast. He was also able to name a couple of the other whales we say because of his ability to identify them based on their tail markings. The guide had a small vial of krill to show us what the whales were feeding on, and he provided us with some information about the species and other marine animals.

Our guide did an excellent job of driving out to the right spot to see as many whales as possible. At one point, the zodiac was surrounded by six or seven different whales. Overall, the guide was an excellent captain and provided us with answers to our questions, careful not to bombard us with information as we carefully watched for spouts.

Since the 19th century, Oregon has relied on the timber industry to drive its economies. It started with the California gold rush’s demand for timber to build railroads and has grown to a multi-billion-dollar industry. In the late 19th century, sawmills along the lower Columbia River were exporting 75 to 100 million board feet of lumber per year, depleting the Midwestern forests. Because of this, interest shifted to harvesting pine and fir.

Timber harvesting grew and grew until World War II, when timber harvesting really took off. Coos Bay was called the “Lumber Capital of the World” and the population grew 30% in the 1940s and 50s. More than 2,000 logging operations were in action at that time, with the state increasing its cut from 5.2 billion board feet to 9.1 billion in 15 years.

This, however, led to land managers completely depleting their forests. Federal laws were implemented in the 1960s and 70s to conserve the remaining forests. By the early 1980s, a recession greatly affected timber-dependent communities. High interest rates slowed down housing construction, Canadian lumber became highly competitive, and a demand for timber from Asia caused American companies to export their timber than mill domestically. Thus, mills closed down and those that remained open needed new technology, which cut the number of employees necessary to run the mill. The price of lumber dropped by nearly 50% and four of the five counties with the highest unemployment rates were timber-dependent counties, including Coos and Curry. 48,000 jobs were lost during the recession.

This caused Oregon to diversify in its industries and manage its land more sustainably. Now, Oregon harvests around 4 billion board feet of timber, but the industry has slowed down to allow for old growth. The wages of timber workers aren’t as high as they were in the 1940s, but jobs and wages have held steady and are projected to stay this way.

 

Sources:

https://oregonhumanities.org/rll/magazine/here-spring-2012/the-state-that-timber-built/

https://oregonencyclopedia.org/articles/timber_industry/#.W2H7jNhKiCQ

Oregon’s Timber History, An Update