Marcus and the Whale
A Look at our Gray Friends
The only member of the family Eschrichtiidae, the gray whale is a mysticete, or baleen whale. It is a "coastal" whale that migrates along the North American Pacific Coast between arctic seas and the lagoons of Baja California, Mexico. Frequently visible from shore, gray whales provide a unique opportunity for land and boat observation, and commercial whale watching has become a major industry along its migration route. Visitors to the calving and breeding lagoons sometimes encounter the phenomenon of the "friendlies"; gray whales that closely approach small boats and allow themselves to be touched by humans.
Physical Description: Gray whales have a streamlined body, with a narrow, tapered head. The upper jaw is arched in profile, and slightly overlaps the lower jaw. The rostrum (upper jaw) is dimpled and each of the little depressions contains one stiff hair. There are 2-5 grooves on the ventral throat 5 feet (1.5 m) in length.
Color: The gray whale received its name from the gray patches and white mottling on its dark skin. On the skin are many scratches, scattered patches of white barnacles, and orange whale lice. Newborn calves are dark gray to black, although some may have distinctive white markings.
Fins and Fluke: The gray whale has no dorsal (top) fin. About 2 /3 of the way back on its body is a prominent dorsal hump followed by a series of 6-12 knuckles along the dorsal ridge that extend to the flukes (tail lobes). Its flippers are paddle shaped and pointed at the tips. Its fluke is about 10-12 feet (3.7 m) across, pointed at the tips, and deeply notched in the center.
Length and Weight: Adult males measure 45-46 feet (13.7-14 m) and adult females measure slightly more. Both sexes weigh 30-40 tons (27,200-36,300kg).