Gray whales

Gray whale near Pacific Grove. Photo: Tom Clifton

It’s gray whale season. As you gaze out across the Pacific, you may see one. These whales are gray in color (hence their name), and are dotted with white markings—scars from parasitic barnacles that attached themselves to the whales’ skin, and then fell off. As they dive, you won’t see a dorsal fin—gray whales don’t have them—but you might see a series of bumps that extend from the middle of the back towards the tail.

The gray whales we see this time of year are traveling from the Bering and Chukghi seas, their summer feeding grounds, to Baja, where they mate and give birth to their calves. These are some big babies—they’re about 4.5 meters (15 feet) long and weigh up to 1,500 pounds!

Historically, gray whales had a wide distribution. There were four populations: the Eastern North Pacific population that we see migrating along our coast, a Western North Pacific population along the coast of Asia, and two populations in the North Atlantic. The Eastern North Atlantic population, along the coast of Europe, went extinct in the 5th century. The Western North Atlantic population, along the east coast of North America, went extinct in the 18th century because of whaling. Today, the North Pacific population close to Asia is critically endangered, with fewer than 200 individuals.   The North Pacific population along our coast is doing well, with over 20,000 individuals.

Read the rest here, at the KQED QUEST site.   S/V Temerity may be heading out the gate for a  practice/whaling mission in February, wx permitting.

1 Response to “Gray whales”

  1. 1

    Nice piece.

    I would like to see a little more information about the idea that the North Pacific Gray Whales are “doing well”; haven’t the calf counts been diminishing over the past 5-10 years? If that is the case, how could they be “doing well”.

    The reports of heathy grays is not really truthful either. If you have contacted the Gray Whale Coalition and the Mexican government I think your picture that you present about them might be a little bit different and more “on the mark”.

    Right now it is a bit of a tall tail….

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