Whale Cove

The land around Whale Cove on the central Oregon Coast is now a protected part of the Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge thanks to a partnership between the property owner and federal, state, and nonprofit organizations.

The 13.97-acre property in Lincoln County is located two miles south of Depoe Bay. It surrounds the oldest marine reserve in Oregon, where all marine life is protected. The site will be managed for its natural resource values and to protect Whale Cove’s ecology. The cove provides scenic views from nearby Rocky Creek State Park and US Highway 101.

The deal closed on December 31, 2014 thanks to support from the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT), Federal Highway Administration, (FHWA), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), the nonprofit North Coast Land Conservancy, Oregon Parks and Recreation Department (OPRD), and property owners Bryce and Beebe Buchanan. The property was valued at $2,250,000; however, the owners donated $1,150,000 by reducing the sale price for the property, accepting $1.1 million. The Buchanans originally purchased this portion of Whale Cove to conserve it; prior to their ownership there were multiple high-density development proposals for the land. The FHWA awarded a Scenic Byways Grant for $650,000 in 2008 to purchase the property. OPRD provided $450,000 in matching funds through Bandon Biota, an Oregon business. Neal Maine with The North Coast Land Conservancy played a pivotal role in applying for the federal funding and negotiating a deal with the Buchanans. ODOT coordinated the scenic byways funding, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agreed to take ownership of the property and manage the site in perpetuity. 

"Seldom do you find an Oregon citizen like Bryce, who not only intentionally buys land for the purpose of conservation, but then has the patience and fortitude to work for more than a decade with multiple government agencies to achieve the goal of preservation," says Neal Maine with the North Coast Land Conservancy.

"We are grateful to the partnerships that have resulted in this new addition to Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge.” said Rebecca Chuck, Refuge Manager for the USFWS "Refuge designation will provide an undisturbed upland buffer to the marine resources of the cove in addition to added protection for the nesting seabirds and marine mammals." 

As part of Oregon Islands NWR, Whale Cove will protect habitat for nesting seabirds including Black Oystercatcher, Pigeon Guillemot, Pelagic Cormorant, and Western Gull, along with Bald Eagle and many species of songbirds. The cove also provides resting and pupping habitat used by over 100 Harbor Seals year-round. People will be able to enjoy the scenery from the nearby state park viewpoint, and by paddling in from Depoe Bay. USFWS staff and volunteers will focus on removing invasive plant species, especially English ivy, to improve the forested areas for wildlife.   

A Brief History of Whale Cove

Long before recorded history, Native Americans found shelter around Whale Cove and partook of its natural bounty. Archaeological study suggests a more or less continuous occupation stretching back 3,000 years.

Little evidence of this native culture remained when European explorers visited this area in the 1800’s.  A smallpox epidemic in 1828 killed most of the members of the resident Siletz Indian tribe. Not long afterward a large forest fire destroyed thousands of acres along this part of the coast. The devastation was so complete that, in 1846, when Theodor Talbot’s exploration party searched around Siletz Bay, they found only one living person. This survivor told Talbot that only a handful of his tribe remained.

Ten years later, the Native population increased dramatically when, in response to the Rogue River Indian Wars, the U.S. government created the Siletz Indian Reservation. Native Americans from 57 tribes around Oregon were relocated to this reservation.

Select tribal members received tracts of land near Whale Cove as recompense in 1887. William Depoe—a former chief of the Rogue River Tribe, for whom the town of Depoe Bay was named—and his wife Matilda were given 200 acres around the cove and along the coast to the north.

By 1947, there was still so little development in this part of the coast that a blurb in the Oregonian, under the title “One House Town”, reported that “[t]he one-house city of Whale Cove, near Depoe Bay, has been listed as a post office point, it was announced Thursday.”

Now, thanks to the collaborative efforts between a Whale Cove property owner and federal, state, and nonprofit organizations, a 14-acre tract of pristine central Oregon coast has been added to Oregon Islands NWR, preserving it in perpetuity.