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Gray Whale Migration & Whale Watching

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Gray Whale Migration & Whale Watching. Physical Characteristics. Adult females are slightly larger than males and measure ~50 feet long. Both sexes weigh 30-40 tons. A 45-foot, 35-ton gray whale is about the same size as 10 large elephants. Adult males measure 45-46 feet in length.

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physical characteristics
Physical Characteristics
  • Adult females are slightly larger than males and measure ~50 feet long.
  • Both sexes weigh 30-40 tons.
  • A 45-foot, 35-ton gray whale is about the same size as 10 large elephants.
  • Adult males measure 45-46 feet in length.
  • The largest gray whales have flukes, or tails, that may span 10 feet.
  • Gray whales are gray with white patches.
gray whale facts
Gray Whale Facts
  • The white patches mainly consist of barnacles and whale lice, which are attached to their skin.
  • On average, a whale carries over 400 pounds of barnacles on its body.
  • Whales rely on a layer of blubber up to 12 inches thick to help them maintain their body temperature.
  • Whales are voluntary breathers, which means they have to remember to breathe. This makes sleeping difficult.
  • Gray whales live to be 50-60 years old.

gray whales food source
Gray Whales’ Food Source
  • Except for babies, gray whales eat little or nothing during migration and in the lagoons of Mexico.
  • When they get home to their arctic feeding grounds, which are ice-free during the summer, they feast for 130-140 days before heading south again.
  • It takes over 600 pounds of tiny krill (amphipods) and mysis shrimp to fill a gray’s stomach.
  • Gray whales have 2-4 throat grooves about 5 feet in length.
  • These grooves expand during feeding, which requires a large intake of water and mud.
  • Gray whales feed on the bottom of the ocean floor, sifting through the mud with their baleen.

what is a baleen whale
What is a Baleen Whale?
  • Gray whales don’t have teeth; they have baleen.
  • Baleen is made of plates of keratin, a fingernail-like material that frays out into fine hairs.
  • Baleen hangs on either side of the jaw, where teeth might otherwise be located.
  • The plates are off-white and are 2-10 inches in length.
  • The whales feed on the right side of their mouths, and sediment is strained by the baleen to catch crustaceans.
  • The crustaceans are trapped in the baleen, which the whale licks with its tongue to dislodge and eat them.

gray whale habitat
Gray Whale Habitat
  • They are found only in the Pacific Ocean.
  • Along the coastline, they have a population of ~26,000. Around Korea and Japan, a small group of 100-250 whales is on the brink of extinction.
  • Gray whales became extinct in the North Atlantic Ocean in the 17th century due to hunting.
  • The whales’ habitat ranges from the Arctic Ocean northwest of Alaska to the Baja peninsula in Mexico.

gray whale behaviors
Gray Whale Behaviors
  • The whales migrate to give birth and mate in a warm climate.
  • They migrate along the coastline and are the only whale that eats from the ocean floor.
  • Gray whales form small pods from 3-16 members.
  • Spy-hopping is a gray whale behavior where the whale pokes its head up to 10 feet out of the water to look around.
  • Gray whales also breach, or jump partially out of the water, causing a loud noise when they land.
  • This may be a form of communication, as are their various grunts, clicks, and whistles.

baby whale
Baby Whale
  • The baby whale weighs 1,100-1,500 lbs. and is ~15 feet long at birth.
  • The warmer waters of Baja Mexico’s shallow lagoons help newborns conserve body heat.
  • They are born lean and without blubber.
  • The calves nurse for about 6 months, during which time the mother provides up to 50 gallons of milk each day.
  • The milk contains 53% fat, and calves may gain 60-70 pounds daily, building up blubber for their cold trip north.
  • Female whales help each other at birth. The “Auntie” pushes the newborn calf up to the surface to ensure it does not drown.
whale nurseries
Whale Nurseries
  • Gray whales migrate farther than any mammal on Earth.
  • Each year they swim from the cold Arctic to warm Mexican lagoons and back again, traveling over 10,000 miles.
  • They leave the cold waters of the Bering Sea in November and swim for 55 days nonstop.
  • In January they arrive in the warm, safe lagoonsof Mexico’s Baja Peninsula, just in time to give birth.
  • The whales remain in the lagoons for 3 months and start their return trip to the Bering Sea in March.