5. Something wondrous
Erin writes: Every winter, 30,000 gray whales make their way from their feeding grounds in Alaska to their breeding grounds off Baja, California. It's a journey of 10,000 thousand miles, the longest known migration in any mammal. The whales do not stop and do not eat.
This year, despite massive storms that made spotting the behemoths all but impossible, the Whale Watching Center in the tiny town Depoe Bay had more visitors than ever before.
Why it matters: Visitors' keen eyes help whale watching staff count and monitor the population. Gray whales used to travel the oceans of the world, but the Atlantic population was hunted to extinction in the 1800s, and just over a hundred are left in the Western Pacific. The population that migrates off of North America is the largest remaining, and was removed from the endangered species list in 1994.
At least a hundred people milled about center's two-story observation room on one day between Christmas and New Year's. It's arguably the best time of year to see whales: as many as 30 pass each hour.
On the horizon, a whale breathed. It was four miles out, the 15-foot tall spout almost invisible against the sky. But the waiting crowd, 30-strong and pressed against the centers' window, gasped and cheered. They traveled hours to see this, a breath from a whale's refrigerator-sized lungs, a tiny smudge that hovers over the water and vanishes.