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Oct 2007 - Carrie Newell


Carrie Newell

A Childhood Dream; a Woman's Ambition

By Jean Harper

"Live in the sunshine, swim the sea, drink the wild air..."
-Ralph Waldo Emerson

It's 9:24pm here on the East Coast of the United States.  As I begin to write this article I pause for a moment and wonder where Carrie Newell is right now.  I immediately smile and imagine her "shooting the hole" for the last time today as the sun is setting on the Oregon coast. "Shooting the hole" is the term used to describe entering the small canal that takes you to the worlds' smallest fishing harbor in Depoe Bay, the whale-watching capital of Oregon. I quickly check the weather just to confirm my prediction of her arrival in the bay, and it is a sunny day with calm winds, with a current temperature of 64 degrees. There is no doubt in my mind where Carrie Newell is right now; she is coming in for her last whale-watching tour of the day.

Carrie coming in to Depoe Bay

While visiting the coast of Oregon this year I was fortunate enough not only to meet Carrie Newell but to participate in one of her whale-watching adventures.  Carrie owns a small Zodiac boat that seats a total of six people.  Before departure Carrie gives a quick lesson on the gray whales of Oregon, consisting of a little anatomy and a description of their diet and feeding techniques. Carrie's lesson includes a sample section of a baleen plate, showing its bristles. Gray whales draw in food along with sea water and then push it out through the baleen plates, retaining any food by filtering it with their bristles, she explains.  Then she holds up a toy-like figure of a gray whale and explains that these whales are from 35 to 45 feet long and weigh 30-40 tons-about the length of a school bus and the weight of ten elephants.

Carrie on-board- Whale Research Zodiac after our tour

Carrie's tour was recommended to me, as she gets you up close and personal with the resident whales of the area and she even knows them by name! She has no difficulty remembering their names, either, as she is the one who actually named most of them. In fact, Carrie has identified and tracked over 50 individual whales by their unique markings and behaviors.


Scarback, the most famous resident whale, has been spotted off Newport and Depoe Bay since 1979 and is easily identified due to the large scar on her right dorsal hump.  It is believed that Scarback got her famous scar from an exploding harpoon, which biologists believe she acquired between 1985 and 1988. Other whales are named Rambo, Zebra Stripe, Cutter, Madame Butterfly, Scars and Stripes, Morisa, Dotsee, Trio, Scarlett, Bulls Eye, Snake Eyes, among many others.

unknown origin- Whale Breach

In addition to conducting her guided tours, Carrie has written two books and has been featured on PBS.  She has over 20 years' experience in teaching about and researching gray whales.  Her passion took root in her childhood and today she is living her dream.  She is a woman of true strength and when speaking to her you can sense her fervor, commanding instant respect.  It takes a lot of confidence to captain a boat, as unpredictable as the sea is, but Carrie Newell is clearly adept and her guests feel safe during their expeditions.

Carrie during tour

A trip with Carrie is not only informative but also truly exhilarating.  After making hundreds of trips, her enthusiasm is still as strong as it was on her very first sighting of a whale.  When one is spotted she yells out to her guests, "Look there! And see the spray!" As you turn to view the enormous creature rising from the water it is easy to understand why Carrie feels such passion in working with and studying these gentle giants of the sea.  The rush of breath, approaching 200mph as it is expelled from the blowhole, rises to the sky unforgettably, leaving you intrigued as you anticipate the next one.  If you get close enough you can feel the spray and smell the whale's breath.  However, Carrie makes it very clear that she will only approach a whale up to a certain distance, but she welcomes any deliberate close encounters on the whale's part, which happens quite often.

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At the end of Carrie's expeditions, everyone gets a hug-no handshakes. If you love whales then you deserve a hug, Carrie says. There is a connection now that you have allowed her to introduce you to her friends, her resident whales of Depoe Boy.

Carrie Newell grew up in the Midwest.  Playing along the shores of Lake Huron, she would swim in the lake and pretend that she was on an adventure with Jacques Cousteau.  She always dreamed of becoming a marine biologist.  She read every book and watched every show that she could find that was related to the ocean.  Her very first trip to the ocean did not take place until she was 14 years old and her next trip was not until she was in her early twenties.

Her vision and dream of becoming a marine biologist never wavered, even though the barriers persisted.  After getting married, Carrie followed her husband, moving from state to state.  Each state left her landlocked and farther from her dream of being with the whales and becoming a marine biologist.  She moved from South Dakota to Utah and Arizona, with no ocean in sight.

Carrie received a bachelor's degree in Fisheries and Wildlife and a B.S. in Biology, and began teaching Biology and Chemistry at a high school in Utah.  However, after just one year she had to move on to Arizona and became pregnant with her elder daughter Amber.  In Arizona she taught biology at Yavapai Community College and began a master's program at Northern Arizona University in Invertebrate Zoology-at this point she was teaching, going to school and holding down a waitressing job.  Then she became pregnant again, with her younger daughter, Ariel.

Upon completion of her master's degree, Carrie was at a point in her life where she was ready to make some changes.  She applied for and was accepted to a professorship position at Lane Community College in Eugene, Oregon.  She packed up her things, her girls, and her dog, and off they went to Oregon.


There Carrie started to teach marine biology, and her dream began to take shape. To add to her knowledge, Carrie began taking every course available and excelled in all areas concerning the marine environment.

Carrie's passion spilled over to her daughters and by the time Amber was 15 and Ariel only 10, they were all certified divers and began going on SCUBA excursions.  Carrie was truly happy and her dream was becoming a reality; the little girl swimming in Lake Huron was now grown up and her work was also her zeal for living. Furthermore, her daughters shared her appetite for the ocean, easily conversing in marine biology lingo, which delighted Carrie.

As Carrie's reality came closer to her dream, she found that her drive to do research was growing stronger.  She began a PhD program at Oregon State University, first in Science Education and then in Biological Oceanography.

Carrie has been working with gray whales since 1999.  During this time she has made discoveries about these giants of the oceans and has published a book called "A Guide to Resident Gray Whales along the Oregon Coast."



As for her dream of swimming with Jacques Cousteau; a high point in Carrie's life took place in the summer of 2004 when Carrie was given the opportunity to work with the Cousteau film and dive crew.  The crew came to Depoe Bay to document and film Carrie's discovery of the feeding of gray whales on mysid shrimp.  This discovery was confirmed by Carrie through collecting fecal samples of the whales-a difficult task, to say the least!  Jean-Michel Cousteau's Ocean Futures Society was producing a documentary on gray whale migration, in partnership with KQED, the San Francisco-based PBS affiliate.  The show aired in the winter of 2006, featuring gray whales traveling from Baja California to their final destination in the Arctic.

Jean Michel Cousteau giving Carrie the bunny ears!
Photo- by Blair Mott (courtesy-Carrie Newell)
Left to right: Chuck Davis, Carrie, Celine Cousteau and Jean Michel Cousteau
Photo- by Blair Mott (courtesy of Carrie Newell)

Carrie Newell, as a little girl, had been constantly enthralled by TV shows about the adventures of Jacques Cousteau and his son Jean-Michel Cousteau. Now for two wonderful weeks she spent time with the Cousteau crew, filming and diving with them, just as she had dreamed.

Today is October 23, 2007 and Carrie Newell will be working hard writing her PhD paper as part of her dissertation, which is due on November 1, just days away. Soon we will be referring to her as Dr. Carrie Newell. Her long-range plans involve spending time in the various oceans that surround the islands of the world, as well as with her resident whales in Depoe Bay. I hope to have the chance to go on another of Carrie's tours, perhaps in the Virgin Islands, maybe Hawaii, or even Tahiti!  However, I definitely plan to go back and take another tour with Dr. Newell in Depoe Bay!

If you are interested in an adventure with Carrie you can visit her website at:

* or call her at 541-912-6734.

Daily Tours - June-October - Explore the Kingdom of the Gray Whale and Journey into its Habitat.   5-day Research Excursion led by Carrie Newell - Journey into the Realm of the Gray Whale

Reference: A Guide to Resident Gray Whales Along the Oregon Coast, Carrie Newell, Nature Unlimited Ink Publishing, Eugene, OR

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