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What Makes Gray Whales Unique

a whale jumping out of the water

Weighing up to 90,000 pounds and measuring up to 49 feet is one of the ocean’s greatest miracles: the Gray Whale. Marine biologists have been fascinated by gray whales since they were first discovered in the early 17th century for their unique appearance and distinct behavior compared to other whale species. To this day, in fact, they continue to contribute fascinating information regarding migration patterns to help humans better understand these massive sea creatures. 

So, what is it that makes gray whales so unique? 

Gray Whale Features

For starters, gray whales have extremely unique characteristics that make it easy to distinguish them from others of their kind. They are, as expected, a dark gray, but covered in white patches that are actually scars from parasites. The scars are so unique that individual whales have even been personally identified by comparing their scars with parasites that have fallen off in their feeding grounds. Two blow horns can be seen on the top of their heads from behind that form a heart shape. As previously stated, they can weigh up to 90,000 pounds and measure up to 49 feet, which makes them the ninth largest-sized species of whale! They typically live between 55-70 years.

Where Do Gray Whales Reside

Gray whales are typically found in the North Pacific. One of their migration routes is from Alaska to Baja, California typically from mid-December to March, which is why Next Level Sailing captains are experts at spotting the gray whales in the deep sea! Towards the end of peak migration, gray whales with their babies can even be spotted after they gave birth in the shallow lagoons along the way to Baja. 

They used to also be in the North Atlantic; unfortunately, they have been extinct in that territory since the 18th century. However, in 2010, there have been a couple of gray whale sightings in the Mediterranean Sea, one off the coast of Israel and one off the coast of Namibia. These sightings provided insight into a previously unknown migration pattern between the Pacific and the Atlantic. This information is important because the dates of the sightings support a trend of migration during times of relatively high temperatures in the Arctic Ocean.

How Gray Whales Behave

Gray whales’ behaviors are often distinguishing factors for them from other whales. They used to be nicknamed the “Devil Fish” due to their aggressive behaviors while being harpooned. Harpooning is a way to hunt whales by setting off explosives once the whale has been penetrated to cause enough brain damage to kill or knock the whale out. This horrible act almost brought gray whales to extinction! Luckily, international conservation acts were passed in the 1930’s and ‘40s to protect whales from commercial whaling and exploitation.  They are also often aggressive when coming in contact with other species, especially when their babies are around. Gray whales are more individualistic and aren’t known to travel in pods due to this behavioral characteristic. However, they can be spotted in larger groups in feeding or breeding ground, like other baleen whales. 

Although typically thought of as aggressive, gray whales are known for their interest in boats, which is perfect for whale watching trips! Next Level Sailing is so confident in their ability to spot whales while out at sea that they offer a trip free of charge if no whales are spotted on the day of the trip!