Whale Watching with Captain Carrie Newell

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carrieThough she wanted to be a marine biologist since she was a child, Captain Carrie Newell made the choice to begin her eco-friendly whale-watching business for the most economical of reasons. After moving to Oregon in 1992 with her two daughters, Newell was studying for her fourth degree, biological oceanography, and needed an extra source of income to pay for classes.

As Newell described it, “My business was supporting my research.” And business has been good. Newell is up to three boats, each carrying six passengers at a time.

But, this has also become personal. Newell now knows the eastern Pacific gray whale population who summer off the coast of Oregon by heart. She knows their histories, has shared in their pain and their joys. For instance, there is Starback: she received a large wound on her back from an exploding harpoon in the 1980s, and is currently raising the most recent of her many calves that Newell has seen.

Comet, another of Newell’s favorites, comes right up to the boat when she calls to the whale. Like each of Newell’s three favorites, she has seen Comet for over 15 years. Of Eagle Eye, a known flirt, Newell said with a laugh, “I love that whale; I named one of my boats after him!”

Whale-watching is not always fun and games. On one of her boats six years ago, Newell discovered a humpback whale tangled by a crab boat. Newell circled the whale for four hours in order to provide moral support, at which point the whale snapped the line and freed herself. Newell is working towards receiving the training necessary to physically free whales caught in situations like this.

Newell provides a vastly more educational experience than most such trips. She invites visitors and future passengers aboard her boats to watch videos about the local marine fauna in the Whale, Sea Life, and Shark Museum she built. Before the museum, she used to sit on the dock and give her passengers the same information using models in a carrying case.

Newell explained, “I got more bold, and my business got bigger and bigger.”

One of Newell’s favorite aspects of her work is the impact the trip has on children. One mother told her afterwards, “My little girl could not stop smiling this trip.” However, Newell’s dog is now challenging the whales as the biggest draw for repeat customers. A local celebrity, 15-year-old Pita has defied cancer in order to continue her role of sniffing out the whales, then signaling her owner when she has found them.

Of her personal job satisfaction, Newell said simply, “I’ve had people who’ve said to me, I’ve given them the best day of their life. That’s the best job you can have.”

For more information about Captain Carrie Newell and her whales, visit

By Ariadne Wolf

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