Gray whales can be seen most commonly during the summer and fall in the local waters around Vancouver Island. It is not an animal we sight on most tours, but we do encounter them from time to time.
Gray whales are large baleen Cetacean that can be from 40-50ft in length and weigh up to 30-40 tons. Generally gray in colour, their bodies and snout tend to be covered in parasites and other organisms, which makes them look like a crusty ocean rock. They have no dorsal fin on their back, a small hump, and knuckle looking bumps along their back towards the tail area.
These whales sift through sediment looking for amphipods, tube worms and small crustaceans. Their general feeding behaviour includes diving down to the bottom, rolling on their side and taking a huge gulp of water and the bottom sediment while using their hair-like teeth to filter out the sand and water, leaving behind lunch.
Aggression – These whales have quite a temper when they are migrating along the western coastline of America into the Arctic waters. Stories from early whalers describe them as “devilfish”, due to their aggressiveness towards their vessels. It is thought that the natural predation of killer whales on young gray whales may have provoked their defensive and agressive nature. Many Gray Whales have Orca teeth marks on their flukes and fins from past attacks.
Breeding & Birthing grounds – During the late fall, winter and early spring periods, gray whales are usually down around the warm lagoons off the Baja Peninsula, Mexico. Their mating behaviour is very complex, and it is reported that it generally consists of three or more whales with a mix of sexes. During this time in certain lagoons, very friendly gray whales have been reported to come up and gently rub boats and even allow people to touch them!
Currently, the populations that move along the west coast of America and Canada are around the 20,000 mark and have recovered to the initial size prior to over hunting in the early 1900’s. However, over-hunting has caused the population in the Northern Atlantic to become extinct.
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