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Gray Whales

Eschrichtius robustus

The Gray Whale is the sole species in the Eschrichtiidae family.

Calves are born at 4.9 meters and grow to 15 meters and 35 tonnes.

This species is only found in the northern hemisphere with most being in the eastern Pacific. The Atlantic stock is now extinct due to over hunting with the western Pacific stock extremely rare.

The Gray Whale (Eschrichtius robustus) is easily identified having such a narrow range and a unique appearance. This whale is a mottled grey, hence its common name, with a pockmarked and blotched appearance. The dorsal surface from snout to tail has various amounts of encrusting barnacles and whale lice. Calves are generally darker in appearance.

In profile the snout has a hooked, beak-like outline with an arched mouth. When viewed from above the snout is very narrow, expanding to close to the whale’s maximum width at the eyes. The upper surface of the snout is pitted with small depressions which contain sensitive hairs. The dorsal fin is, at best, a low hump set 2/3 of the way down the back followed by a ridge of knuckle-like bumps leading to the broad, 3 meter wide tail flukes which are raised above the surface prior to a dive. The body is generally heavy and robust (as indicated by the scientific name) with broad pectoral fins and 2-5 deep creases on the throat instead of the mass of pleats found on the Rorqual whales.

Gray Whales undergo an autumn migration from the arctic to their winter breeding grounds in various bays in the Mexican Baja peninsula. Surface activity includes breaching and spy-hopping. There is a substantial tourist industry around the migration route and breeding lagoons where tourists are able to touch some individuals known as “friendlies” which approach boats. In contrast to this during the whaling years Gray Whales were called “Devilfish” due to the fierce protection of their calves which were harpooned by the whalers in order to target their mothers.

Feeding consists of sifting crustaceans, known as mysids, from above and within the silty seabed. Most are “right handed” preferring to scoop up mud and seawater containing the mysids on their right hand side. As a result the baleen and skin on the right hand side is more worn.