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About Whales

Gray Whales

The gray whale is a species of large baleen whale, also known by the scientific name of Eschrichtius robustus. It is the only member of the taxonomic genus eschrichtius as well as the family eschrichtiidae.

The gray whale can be found in the north of the Pacific Ocean, where two gray whale populations exist. One population resides in the west of the ocean, near southern Korea, and is considered critically endangered with a total of only 130 individuals. The other population can be found in the east of the Pacific, between Alaska and the Mexican state of Baja California Sur, and is much larger, containing over 20,000 individuals.

As its name suggests, the gray whale is dark gray in color, and has distinct white and gray markings across its skin caused by parasites that attach to the whale but drop from its skin in cold, deep waters. It is also distinguished by its two blow holes and its off-white, atypically short baleen.

On average, the gray whale measures between 43 and 49 feet in length and weighs 15 to 33 tonnes. At its largest, the gray whale can weigh up to 40 tonnes, over 88,000 pounds. Females are typically larger than males.

As a baleen whale, the gray whale is a filter-feeder. It subsists primarily on crustaceans found in the deepest layer of the ocean, where it feeds by turning its head to one side and filling its mouth with sediment. Its baleen subsequently filters this mixture, capturing small sea life for the whale to consume. The gray whale does most of its feeding in the north during the summer, and feeds only opportunistically while it migrates, relying predominantly on stores of fat during its migration.

The gray whale migrates yearly starting in October, when ice from the north begins to move south. During its migration, the gray whale travels an average of 75 miles per day, traveling both day and night at an average speed of five miles per hour. The gray whale's migration covers distances of 9,900 to 13,700 miles round trip, making it perhaps the longest migration of any animal.

This migration also serves as a trek to the gray whale's breeding areas. Most gray whales arrive at their destination by mid-February to mid-March, seeking lagoons in which to give birth and search for mates. The first gray whales to begin the trip back, generally gray whales without newborn calves, depart in February and March. Nursing or still-pregnant females tend to remain at the breeding area until their calves are ready for the trek back, typically leaving in March or April but sometimes staying as late as May.

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