The Gray Whale is a baleen whale and belongs to the cetacean species which also includes dolphins & porpoises. These whales can grow over 50 feet long and live as long as 50–70 years. During the whaling industry between the 17th & 20th centuries, the Gray Whale was hunted largely for its resources and nearly became extinct. Today their numbers have grown and estimates state that there are at least 20,000 Grays currently in existence. The Gray Whale acquired its name from the gray patches and white mottling on its skin. In many cases they are also covered in parasites and other organisms causing their skin to look discolored and give the appearance of crusty ocean rock. They have a layer of blubber which can be as thick as 10 inches. Compared to most other baleen whales, their baleen bristles are fairly short. Instead of having a dorsal fin like other species of whale, Gray Whales have a small dorsal hump. In terms of size, these whales average between 45-48 feet in length and weigh as much as 40 tons.
Gray Whales are bottom feeders and hunt by swimming to the bottom of the ocean, turning on its side and scooping up sediments from the sea floor. Their primary diet consists of eating benthic crustaceans. They use their baleen bristles to filter out water while capturing and trapping their prey in their baleen. Female Grays usually grow slightly larger than their male counterparts. A baby Gray Whale calf can consume as much as 80 gallons of milk per day. Gray Whales are often found swimming in the eastern north Pacific Ocean and near Korea in the western north Pacific Ocean. Every October, small pods of Grays make long migration trips from their feeding grounds in the Bering and Chukchi Seas and migrate to the Baja peninsula of Mexico and the southern Gulf of California where they mate and give birth to their offspring. The migration trip takes an average of 2-3 months and is considered to be one of the longest migrations trip of any animal, lasting 9,000 to 14,000 miles. During these trips, Gray Whales travel night & day moving at an average speed of 5 mph or less. When mating season ends, they begin their journey back to the eastern north and western north Pacific Ocean.
Most Gray Whales are born around mid January and are an average of 13 feet at birth. These whales are born in shallow waters which is believed to help prevent their young from being attacked by sharks and Killer Whales. The typical gestation period for a female (the period from conception to birth) lasts 13.5 months. Baby Grays drink milk which is made up of over 50% fat and is produced by their mothers mammary glands. This feeding period lasts for about 7 months or until lactation stops. The Gray Whale is found living in two areas throughout the northern hemisphere which are the eastern & western Pacific Ocean regions. These whales are currently considered extinct in the northern Atlantic Ocean basin. During migration trips, as many as 20,000 Gray Whales can be seen traveling. In 1994, the Gray Whale was taken off of the endangered list and are currently protected by international law.