Gray Whale

Eschrichtius robustus

Length

Up to 46 feet (14 m)

Weight

30-40 tons (27,200-36,300 kg)

Distribution

North Pacific, feeding near the Bering sea in summer months and migrating to Baja California, Mexico in the winter to mate and give birth

Population

20,000-22,000 individuals

Description

The gray whale is a robust baleen whale with a mottled gray skin color. They are commonly covered with scattered barnacles and patches of lice. They feed primarily on small crustaceans called amphipods that live in arctic mud. They feed by suctioning large scoops of mud from the sea floor, pushing the mud through their baleen plates and eating the small animals that become trapped in them.

Gray whales participate in the longest mammal migration on Earth. The journey from their arctic feeding grounds in Alaska to their calving grounds in the isolated lagoons of Baja, Mexico (and back up to Alaska once more), is approximately 12,000 miles round-trip and takes 6-8 months to complete. During that time, Gray Whales rely heavily on a thick layer of blubber to provide the energy necessary for such a long trip.

Gray whales are extremely slow swimmers, traveling at about 3-5 miles per hour. For this reason, they were popular targets for commercial whalers and were hunted to the brink of extinction. Fortunately, hunting Gray Whales became a criminal act in 1946 and they have since made a full recovery in population. Gray whales also once traveled along the Atlantic coast. Unfortunately, the Atlantic population was unable to recover from whaling efforts and is now extinct.