Only found in the Northern Hemisphere, the Gray whale (Eschrichtius robustus)
can easily be observed along the West Coast of North America, where it performs
unbelievably long migrations
from its summerly feeding grounds in the Bering Sea to the world-famous winterly breeding lagoons of
Baja California (Mexico) and back, for an overall 20000km (12400 miles) round-trip.
Unlike most other baleen whales, Gray whales are very friendly and usually approach the boat.
Strikingly, the Gray whale does not feed at all in winter, and it is known to lose as much as 30% of its
weight between summers.
Some characteristic features of this species are:
- Mottled gray colour, with relatively tiny white patches.
- Arched head and mouth.
- No dorsal fin.
- Two throat grooves.
- Flukes are raised above the water surface when deep diving.
- Moderate to huge amount of parasites, such as barnacles and whale lice
Female Gray whales are generally larger than males (which is the norm for baleen whales in general).
The Gray whale is a bottom-feeder, its diet being mainly based on benthic crustaceans called
Amphipods (although it is known to also feed on krill in the water column).
This also explains why it is mainly found in relatively shallow waters.
When feeding, the Gray whale rolls onto its right side ("left-handed" individuals are known but rare)
and sweeps the bottom engulfing large amounts of sediment and food, which is then filtered by means of its
short baleens as water and silty water is pushed out.
The Gray whale is naturally inquisitive, it often spyhops, lobtails and breaches.
In our experience, it is definitely the most friendly, curious and playful of all toothless cetaceans.
When breeding lagoons were discovered by former whalers, Gray whales were slaughtered to the brink of
extinction. Newborn were often harpooned so that mother whales would not leave and could be easily killed
The Gray whale was nicknamed Devil Fish by whalers, because of the aggressive behaviour shown by females
in the desperate attempt to save their young.
Luckily, despite human stupidity, these gentle creatures have survived in sufficient numbers for the
Pacific population to recover, at least in North America.