Eschrichtiidae – Gray whale

Once called ‘devil fish’ by whalers due to their fighting behavior when hunted

These majestic creatures are easily identifiable by their gray skin, marked with white mottling patterns caused by parasites that attach to their skin and then fall off, leaving behind light-colored scars. Unlike many other whale species, gray whales lack a dorsal fin; instead, they have a unique feature of knuckle-like bumps along the dorsal ridge towards the back third of their body, contributing to their distinctive silhouette.

Gray whales possess two blowholes located on the top of their head, an adaptation seen in all baleen whales. This anatomical feature allows them to exhale a characteristic heart-shaped blow or spout when breathing at the surface, particularly visible on calm days, creating a stunning sight for whale watchers. This dual blowhole system is highly efficient, enabling the whale to take quick breaths at the surface before diving.

One of the most awe-inspiring aspects of the gray whale’s biology is its extensive migratory pattern, the longest known of any mammal. Annually, these whales embark on a round-trip journey of approximately 10,000 to 12,000 miles (16,000 to 19,000 kilometers) between their summer feeding grounds in the Arctic’s nutrient-rich waters and their winter breeding grounds in the warmer equatorial lagoons off the coast of Mexico. This incredible journey allows them to exploit rich feeding areas in the north during the summer months and provides safer, warmer waters for the females to give birth during the winter.

However, the gray whale faces significant challenges that threaten its survival. Entanglement in fishing gear poses a major risk, leading to injury or death for many whales each year. Pollution from various sources can contaminate their food supply and habitat, impacting their health and reproductive success. Additionally, increased ship traffic in their migratory and feeding areas raises the risk of collisions, which can be fatal for whales.