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. They are commonly covered with scattered barnacles and whale lice. They mainly eat small crustaceans called amphipods that live in arctic mud. They feed by taking large scoops of mud and eating the small animals that become trapped in their baleen plates.

Gray whales participate in one of the longest mammal migrations on earth. The journey from their arctic feeding grounds to their calving grounds in the lagoons off of Baja, Mexico, is approximately 12,000 miles and takes 6-8 months to complete. During that time, gray whales rely heavily on a thick layer of blubber to give them energy, as they eat virtually nothing while making the journey.

Gray whales are extremely slow swimmers, traveling at about 3-5 miles per hour. Because of this, they were popular targets for commercial whalers and were hunted to the brink of extinction. Fortunately, hunting gray whales became illegal in 1946 and they have since made a full recovery in population. Gray whales also once traveled up and down the Atlantic coast, but unfortunately that population was not able to recover from whaling efforts and is now extinct.