- Baleen whales
- Gray with white patches, mainly made of barnacles and sea lice
- No dorsal fin, instead small hump about ⅔ of way down back
- Weight 33,000-88,000 pounds
- Length 40-50 feet
- The females are usually slightly larger than the males
- Gray whales are found only in the Pacific Ocean
- Gray whales used to spend every summer in the waters of the Bering Sea feeding. Now they mainly feed in the Chukchi Sea off of Alaska.
- Gray whales spend every winter in the waters of Baja California, Mexico to mate and give birth
- Gray whales migrate on a 10,000-mile round trip every year! They leave the food-rich Chukchi Sea in October, and swim to Baja, arriving in the warm water by January. Pregnant females give birth in January, and whales stay until March. Then they swim north again in April and May.
- Gray whales stay near the continental shelf and are a coastal species
- Mainly eat amphipods in the mud at the seafloor
- Also eat some krill and small fish at the surface
- Killer whales prey on gray whale calves
- Once gray whales are adults, killer whales cannot attack them
- A gray whale can carry 400 pounds of barnacles and sea lice!
- Gray whales were at the brink of extinction due to whaling in the 1900s, but in 1946 there was an international agreement to stop hunting them. The Atlantic population was hunted to extinction, but the Eastern North Pacific population was removed from the Endangered Species List in 1994! The Western North Pacific population is still endangered and only has about 200 whales.
Sources: National Park Service; Birch Aquarium at Scripps; The Marine Mammal Center; Voices in the Sea; CBS8; Regina Guazzo, Scripps Institution of Oceanography
Photo: Courtesy of SeaWorld
You might have noticed that this gray whale is much smaller than 40-50 feet long. That’s because this is of a specific gray whale calf, JJ. The gray whale statue in the playground here at La Jolla Shores is 15 feet, the exact length that JJ the gray whale was when she was found in 1997, dehydrated, hypoglycemic, and near death in Marina del Rey. JJ was brought to SeaWorld San Diego to be nursed back to health. After fourteen months at SeaWorld, JJ was a healthy 19,000 pounds, was eating on her own, and was 31 feet long, the length of JJ the gray whale here in the map. She was ready to be released back into the wild, a true rehabilitation success story!
To learn more about JJ the gray whale, click here. And to see photos of JJ, click here.
To hear a gray whale’s call and see videos of them swimming, visit Voices in the Sea, a collaboration between the Pacific Life Foundation and Scripps Institution of Oceanography.
To see gray whales as they migrate past San Diego, go whale watching with Birch Aquarium and Flagship Cruises!
And come learn all about gray whales and their relatives at Birch Aquarium’s annual Whale Fest!
Scripps scientists are currently studying gray whale migration patterns, and are finding that they are migrating closer to shore, which could put them in more danger of ship strikes and entanglements!