Get to Know these Incredible, Gentle Giants

 

 

Order: Artiodactyla

Genus: Eschrichtius

Family: Eschrichtiidae

Species: E. robustus

Range: The waters of Baja California in winter; Bering and Chukchi Seas in summer

Population: Approximately 26,000

How to spot them: Dorsal hump followed by 6-12 small ridges (most whales have a dorsal fin); mottled gray skin with white patches of lice and barnacles; double blow-hole with heart-shaped spouts

 

Once known as “devil fish” because of the ferocious way they defended themselves against whalers, gray whales today are dubbed the “friendliest in the world”. In their calving lagoons in Baja you can find genuinely curious and playful mother whales approaching small boats, even lifting up their calves for a welcome pat on the head.

 

“This type of behavior may have been possible during the whaling days, but it was highly unlikely, as they were being harpooned by the thousands,” explains Lindblad naturalist Pete Pederson. “Then back in the late 70s someone reached out a warm and gentle hand, crossed a tremendous divide, and touched a 40-ton whale that surprisingly loved it. This couldn’t have happened until the generation of those that feared being slaughtered in the late 1940s was separated by a collective memory of about 30 years,” he says.

 

No one knows exactly why they exhibit this behavior, but it’s clear they enjoy it and continue to pass it down to their calves. Scroll for more fun facts about our favorite friendly whales.

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A Mighty Migration

Gray whales have the longest migration of any mammal in the world, traveling up to 12,000 miles round-trip each year from their winter home in the Arctic’s icy waters to their breeding grounds in Baja.

By the Numbers

Clocking in at 90,000 pounds and 42 to 49 feet long, gray whales are the eighth largest whales in the ocean. To start bulking up calves drink 50 gallons of milk daily, putting on 15 pounds a day for eight months. Once full-grown, they can eat up to 2,600 pounds per day!


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Baleens & Bottom-Feeding

Unlike any other whale species, grays feed primarily from the sea floor on tiny crustaceans known as amphipods. They suck up large amounts of sediment and water then filter the food through their baleen—that comb-like strainer of plates in the upper jaw.

A Host With the Most

Gray whales host a particular kind of barnacle called Cryptolepas rhachianecti and can carry over 400 pounds of them on their body. As barnacles die and fall off they leave a round white ring—these scars create a unique pattern that helps identify whales like a fingerprint.

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