8 Fascinating Gray Whale Facts

gray whale facts

The gray whale is one of the most fascinating species of whale on the planet.

This magnificent creature is renowned for making an incredibly long migration each year in order to reach feeding waters and thrive.

In this post, we’re going to take a look at 8 fascinating gray whale facts to hopefully educate and inspire you to learn more about this stunning whale.

Let’s get into it…

1. Gray Whales Make An Incredibly Long Migration

Each year the gray whale makes one of the largest migrations out of all animals on planet earth.

The whales migrate north each spring to feast and grow fat in the rich feeding waters of the Arctic.

From there they then migrate south in the fall to mate and give birth in the lagoons of Mexico’s Baja Peninsula.

The gray whale’s migration is the furthest of any mammal. Each year they cover an impressive 10,000 (16,000km) – 14,000 miles 22,500km) to complete their journey.

2. They Are Exceptional Mothers

Gray whales are incredible mothers. At the end of their southbound migration, usually, in late fall they give birth to a single calf.

Newborns are typically five meters long and can weigh up to 900kg, which is the equivalent of 10 baby elephants!

Gray whales are fierce mothers that will protect their young at all costs, and they need to be as 1/3 of gray whale calves in a given year fall prey to killer whales.

Their motherly instincts are so strong, that one year a gray whale was seen upside down with her calf on her tummy, keeping her young out the way of attacking killer whales.

3. Nicknamed “Devil Fish”

In the 19th century, whalers would harpoon gray whales and their calves. Naturally, gray whales did not appreciate this and reacted aggressively towards the fisherman.

This is where they got the nickname “Devil Fish”. The powerful gray whales would attack fishing boats in order to protect themselves and their young.

Since 1949, they have been protected from whaling by the International Whaling Commission and thankfully are no longer hunted on a commercial basis.

4. Gray Whales Can Be Incredibly Friendly

Today, gray whales can be a little shy, understandably. However, in some parts of the world, these whales are super friendly, such as San Ignacio Lagoon.

The gray whales in this lagoon are incredibly friendly, and whilst scientists are not sure why, they are passing this culture down to their young.

This makes the lagoon one of the most amazing places in the world to witness gray whales, as they will often come so close that they can be eye-to-eye with people, which is an amazing experience.

The whales in this lagoon will come close to fishing boats in order to be stroked and petted by humans, and they appear to enjoy the experience just as much as the people.

Gray whales have now been given the name “the friendly whale” because they are so inquisitive and curious towards humans.

They will sometimes swim right up to boats and pop their heads out vertically to get a closer look at their surroundings and see what is going on.

5. Gray Whale Barnacles

The gray whale is typically covered in barnacles that are sort of like hitchhikers.

Gray whales carry heavy loads (up to 400lbs) of these barnacles on their backs and they serve no real advantage to the whales.

The barnacles don’t harm or feed on the whale, but they do give helpful lice a place to hang onto the whale without being washed away.

These barnacles that are found on gray whales’ skin are just as unique as a human fingerprint, which allows scientists to use them to keep track of particular whales and easily identify them.

6. Gray Whales Are Primarily Bottom Feeders

Gray whales are primarily bottom feeders, they scoop up mouthfuls of sediment to find small, buries crustaceans.

They then use their baleen to strain out the sediment and then swallow the rest.

Their tongue is used to force the sediment and water through the baleen plates, by doing this they leave long trails of mud behind them.

They consume a variety of invertebrates such as anthropods, schooling fish, and more. During the summer months, they will feed in the arctic waters for as long as 20 hours a day.

7. Gray Whale Calves

Gray whale calves are anything but small, they can reach around 15 feet long and weigh as much as 2000 lbs.

The calf nurses for around 6 months, and they grow fast given that they are fed milk that is around 53% fat content.

Mother gray whales provide their calves with around 50 gallons of milk each day.

8. Gray Whales Can Live For A Long Time

Although the average life expectancy of gray whales is typically between 50 and 60 years old. It has been thought that one female was estimated to be between 75 – 80 years old.

Gray whales reach sexual maturity between the ages of 5 and 11 years old. At which point they will start to mate and have calves.

A gray whale that reaches the age of 40 years old could have as many as 18 calves throughout its lifetime.

Final Thoughts

Gray whales are an amazing species of whales. They were hunted to near extinction in the mid-1800s and again in the 1900s.

Their blubber was used to produce oil in lamps, and the whales were easily accessible to whales as they resided close to the shores.

Thankfully the population rebounded and the gray whale was taken off the endangered species list in 1994.

Although gray whales still face the many dangers that other marine animals do, such as pollution, overfishing, being caught in fishing nets, the gray whale does have a stable population at present.

Hopefully, you’ve learned a thing or two about gray whales in this post. If you have enjoyed it, feel free to stick around and learn more about these fascinating whales.