Gray Whales

Scientific Name: Eschrichtius robustus


When is the best time to view Gray Whales in Monterey Bay and where is the best viewing?

Gray whales are typically seen in the Monterey Bay from December through May. In the winter they travel South to Baja California for reproduction. They peak in numbers traveling through the Monterey Bay around mid-January.

Gray whale and calf spotted from Point Sur Lighthouse.

Gray whale and calf spotted from Point Sur Lighthouse.

In the Spring, February through May, the whales are traveling North with their babies through the Monterey Bay. These number peak around mid-March. During this migration, the whales travel closer to shore to protect their babies.

Viewing these whales from a boat is the best viewing and there are many whale watching tours available. You can still see the whales from land most most Monterey Bay shorelines. One great place to do this is Pt. Lobos State Natural Reserve because of its high view point along the trails.

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About Gray Whales

The gray whale is mostly gray with some white patches and scratches. Their skin feels like a peeled, hard-boiled egg and bumpy where there are patches of barnacles, whale lice and other organisms along for the ride. Gray whales have streamlined bodies with narrow heads. They have a natural overbite, as the upper jaw slightly overlaps the lower jaw. The gray whale does not have throat pleating or a dorsal (top) fin. However, about 2/3 of the way back on the body is a dorsal hump. The dorsal hump is followed by 6–12 knuckles along the dorsal ridge, which extend to the tail.

Gray whales travel in groups called pods and surface to breathe. An adult can stay submerged up to 15 minutes. Gray whales have a double blowhole. A gray whale spout or blow can reach up to 15 feet, and looks like a heart from the front or back. Instead of teeth, gray whales have baleen. Baleen is made of keratin (same substance found in human hair and nails) and is similar to bristles of a toothbrush. Gray whales use their baleen to strain food from the seafloor. The gray whale opens its mouth underwater, letting in water, krill and other tiny creatures. The whale then pushes the water out as its baleen filters the food from the water. Baleen was once used to make corsets and umbrella ribs.

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What do Gray Whales and elephants have in common and other Gray Whale fun facts.

  • Same size and weight as 10 good-sized elephants
  • Tail-flukes can weigh up to 400 lbs. alone, 10–12 feet across
  • The heart of a gray whale weighs over 285 lbs.
  • Hunted to the edge of extinction, the Gray whale was given protection by the International Whaling Commission (IWC) in 1937 & 1947
  • Can dive up to 395 ft., travel at 3–6 mph and be submerged for up to 15 min.
  • Calves nurse 7–8 months on milk that is 53% fat (human milk is 2% fat)
  • Migrate 10,000–14,000 miles, which is the longest known migration route for a mammal
  • Their crusty ocean rock appearance is due to several hundred pounds of parasites covering their skin.

Habitat: Migrate along the North American coastline from Alaskan waters to the Mexican coast. Mate and give birth in warmer waters of Baja, California.

Size: Newborn calves average 16 ft. Males average 43 ft. and Females average 46 ft. Can be up to 50 ft.

Diet: bottom feeder, consists mainly of sand crab-like crustaceans called amphipods

Lifespan: About 40 years

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