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Fishin' for Facts: Gray Whales 
a Hagfish Day Star!

If you think the Western Gray Whale is awesome, vote for it in our Ugly-Beauty contest!

Common name:  Eastern and Western Pacific gray whales
Scientific name: Eschrichtius robustus
bulletSize
Female gray whales reach lengths up to 45 feet (a little longer than a school bus) and weigh as much as 70,000 lb. Males are slightly smaller.
At birth calves are approximately 15 feet long. (That's about the length of an SUV.)
bulletDo they really have lice?

Gray whales, like some other baleen whales, are covered in whale lice and barnacles.  The lice are amphipods -- a kind of crustacean. (Other examples of crustaceans are shrimp and crabs.)
For both, the whale is like a fantastic cruise ship. It provides a safe place to live, an excellent ever-changing view,  and access to food.

Whale lice feed on the dead skin of the whale. The barnacles do not feed on the whale. Like other barnacles, they filter plankton from the water. Scientists don't believe the barnacles provide any benefit for the whale, but they probably don't hurt them either.   (Speaking of barnacles, did you know beaked whales have them on their teeth?)

bulletWhere are they found?

Eastern Gray Whale

  Western Gray Whale
Eastern Pacific gray whales are the gray whales most people are familiar with. Most spend the summer in the Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort Seas. Gray whales, like other baleen whales, migrate to warmer waters during the winter months. The eastern Pacific stock of gray whales travels along the coast of the North America (Canada, Washington, Oregon, California) on their way to the lagoons in Mexico. During this annual migration, a gray whale can travel as far as 6,000 miles each way. The eastern gray whale population is healthy and strong -- and is as  larger or larger than it ever was.

Pregnant females travel to the lagoons to give birth and raise the calf. The lagoons are protected from the open ocean, currents and predators. Others may travel to warmer waters or to find mates. Not all gray whales travel to the lagoons during the winter. Some may travel a portion of the way, some may not at all.

 

Western Pacific gray whales: There is very recent and cool information about gray whales and where they live. For many years, scientists thought Western gray whales were extinct. But a small group has been discovered in a feeding area off the coast of Russia in the 1980s. About 30 were found in the 80s-90s. Today there are 130 western gray whales! Very little is known about this critically endangered population, but several countries have joined together to study and protect them.

 

bulletWhat do they eat?
Both western and eastern gray whales are benthic feeders. That means they search for food on the bottom of the ocean. They eat tiny shrimp-like animals like amphipods and other bottom-dwelling animals. Some might scoop up a meal of mysid shrimp and crab larvae, too.

Gray whales are baleen whales. Baleen whales have plates of baleen that hang from the upper jaw. The baleen is used to filter food from the water.

bulletHow much do they eat?
Like other baleen whales, gray whales only eat part of the year. Gray whales eat when they're in the polar seas. An adult eats about 660 lb of food a day or 340,000 pounds during their 4 month feeding period.
bulletGray Whale Highlights

Eastern gray whale

 

Western gray whale

Eastern gray whales were nearly hunted to extinction twice. Because they travel the same north-south routes on their migration and breed in the lagoons, they were easily found/hunted.

The first time the population almost became extinct was around the 1850s. That's when whalers found the breeding lagoons in Mexico. Then again at the turn of the 20th century. In 1946 international laws were  passed to protect them. The good news is, today the eastern Pacific gray whale population is as large or larger than before people started hunting them. In other words, it is VERY healthy and strong.

Scientists have no idea where western gray whales go to once they leave the feeding grounds off the coast of Russia. They don't know where the calves are born or what routes they take to the secret nurseries! In order to protect the western gray whale -- and allow people to protect them as the eastern gray whale was protected, there is so much to discover!

*A second set of tagged western gray whales..seem to have also headed toward the USA...one all the way to Mexico. Hmmm the plot thickens on these mysterious whales!

See the box below to read about the latest research and who is conducting the research. You'll love to hear about Flex and friends!

 

Keep up with the latest *research: The rediscovery of a western population is very exciting! Learn about last year's breakthrough work with Flex.
And, The science team just tagged four more
western gray whales. This fantastic research is the start to understanding even more about this critically endangered whale! 

Read more about what the science team that studies the western gray whale:

Follow the incredible and important *research of the western gray whale : http://mmi.oregonstate.edu/Sakhalin2011

The story of Flex:

Western Pacific Gray Whale, Sakhalin Island 2010 (Marine Mammal Institute, Oregon State University)

Western gray whale makes unexpected journey  (IUCN)

The latest research: 'Flex' leads researchers to five endangered western gray whales  (Marine Mammal Institute, Oregon State University)

*This research was conducted by A.N. Severtsov Institute of Ecology and Evolution of the Russian Academy of Sciences (IEE RAS) and Oregon State University Marine Mammal Institute in collaboration with the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service, Kronotsky State Nature Biosphere Reserve and the Kamchatka Branch of the Pacific Institute of Geography. The research was contracted through the International Whaling Commission (IWC) and International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) with funding from Exxon Neftegas Ltd. and Sakhalin Energy Investment Company Ltd.

 


 

Citation: Musgrave, Ruth A. Gray Whales. Fishin' for Facts. WhaleTimes, Inc. (whaletimes.org) 2011

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