Adult Gray Whales weigh 30-40
tons and measure about 45 feet (14
meters); they have dark skin with gray
patches and white mottling, the calves
are born dark gray to black (sometimes
with distinctive white markings). They
are baleen whales (with a series of
130-180 fringed overlapping plates
hanging from each side of the upper jaw
in lieu of teeth), as such they feed by
drawing sediment and water into their
mouths, expelling the water and sediment
through the baleen plates, leaving the
trapped food ready to be swallowed.
Courtship and mating behavior are complex, and frequently involve 3 or more whales of mixed sexes (one on top to keep the the other two down), They make one of the longest of all mammalian migrations averaging 10-14,000 miles each year. In October they leave their feeding grounds in the Bering and Chukchi Seas and head to Baja California. The southward journey takes 2-3 months, then they remain in the warm lagoon waters for 2-3 months with their calves before making the return trip.
At one time there were three distinct gray whale populations, a north Atlantic population, now believed extinct, a western north Pacific group - now very depleted; and the eastern north Pacific population which were hunted nearly to extinction during the second half of the 1850s and early 1900s. They were given partial protection in 1937 and full protection in 1947 by the International Whaling Commimssion (IWC) and have since recovered to what is believed to be close to their original population size. (19-23,000).
This article was originally published in August 2006, and has been updated for the
February 2008 paperback release.
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