The gray whale is a baleen whale and the sole species in the genus Eschrichtius. They have also been known as California Gray Whale, Devilfish, Mussel-digger, and Scrag Whale. They are dark gray in color with patches of light and darker colors, the result of scars left by parasites, and two blowholes on the top of their head. They are a fairly large whale with many short baleen rows, a narrow head, and no dorsal fin. A female gray whale can grow from 35 to 50 feet and weigh as much as 30 – 40 tons while the males tend to be a littler smaller.
The gray whale comes to the surface to breathe. But it can stay underwater for up to 15 minutes before running out of air. Air is expelled through the blowholes on the its back, creating a spout. Grays are curious and often playful in their movements. Breaching is when the whale leaps almost clear of the water and falls back with a splash. Sounding is the term for showing it’s flukes or tail. Spy hopping is when the whale propels itself vertically upward out of the water until it can see and can last from 10 to 30 seconds!
Gray whales spend the summer and the early fall months in the arctic waters of the Chukchi and Bearing Seas feeding off bottom sediment before heading south to breed and for warmer waters. In the late fall, the whales start their 5000 mile migration south to Baja California, one of the longest trips for mammals. There are now over 23,000 gray whales passing by the west coast of the United States in December and January on their southern migration and going north in March and April.
The gray’s diet consists of tube worms and sessile polychaetes that live in sediment on the ocean floor. In the shallower waters, the whale will dive down for 3 to 5 minutes and bump the bottom, creating clouds of food rich sediment which it scoops up with it’s mouth. It then expels the water through the baleen in its mouth, leaving behind its dinner, which it promptly swallows! A trail of dents in the ocean floor is left behind. While migrating the Gray whales will feed at the surface on small fish and mysids (Acanthomysis sculpta) amphipods which are tiny shrimp-like creatures.
The female gray whale usually produce offspring every 2 to 3 years after a gestation period of 12 to 13 months. Another female gray whale helps the mother when the calf is born, she’s the auntie. The shallow lagoons of Baja California provide the perfect nursery for the newborn calf, which weighs about 1,500 pounds and is about 15 feet long. The mother whale’s milk is 53% fat, which is 10 times richer than cow’s milk and necessary for the calf to build up blubber for the long migration north. They are weaned at about eight months, after the trip back.The calf must get in shape before the long trip north and swims against the lagoon currents to develop its swimming muscles. By the time the whales leave the lagoons the calves are about 19 feet long, and weigh about 3,000 pounds.
The enemies and hunters of the gray whale include man, sharks, and Orca whales.
See Gray Whales Up Close!
Whale watching aboard our high-tech/high-speed boat with underwater “eye to eye” viewing pod and bow that’s low to the water we’ll get you up close and personal with gray whales. You can view the Gray Whale migration on our daily trips December through April.
Watch Gray Whales on Whale Watching TV too!
Dana Point Festival of Whales
We hope you’ll join us in March for the annual Dana Point Festival of Whales where we celebrate the amazing journey of the Gray Whale.