The Gray Whale ranks as a remarkable cetacean, yet, sadly, they also constitute a highly threatened one, as well.
One of their three known populations has already vanished. This population, endemic to the North Atlantic Ocean, was extirpated by whaling activities in the 18th century.
Thankfully, this unique whale came under protection in 1947. Since that action, the larger of the two remaining populations managed to make a comeback.
This larger group now numbers approximately 20,000 individuals while the smaller group contains fewer than 130 whales. Only a handful of females of breeding age has been detected in this group. Thus, scientists fear that this group may soon be extinct as well.
The IUCN quite understandably, therefore, lists this grouping of this impressive ocean creature as Critically Endangered.
Gray Whale Physical Description
The Gray Whale is a large and impressive cetacean, representing a species of baleen whale and the only known extant member of its family.
Sexual dimorphism is present, with males slightly larger in size than females. Males attain an average length of 46 ft (14 m). Adults weigh about 80,000 lb (36,363 kg).
Their natural coloring is a dark gray, hence the colloquial name. However, most individuals also display gray-white patterns on their bodies which are the result of scarring inflicted by parasites.
Unlike most whales, they do not possess a dorsal fin. They possess not one but two blowholes on the top of their head. The animal also displays a unique and unusual feature on their upper jaw. Small depressions line this and each depression contains one short, stiff bristle. The purpose (if any) for this remains a mystery.
Gray Whale Distribution, Habitat. and Ecology
The two surviving populations of Gray Whale occupy two widely separated regions.
The smaller group inhabits the Western Pacific Ocean. Their extremely small range extends from southern Korea to the Sea of Okhotsk.
The larger population lives in the Eastern Pacific Ocean, with a range that extends from Baja California to the Bering Sea.
Both populations inhabit coastal regions and engage in seasonal migrations. The migratory range of the smaller population is much shorter. The larger population migrates an average of 14,000 mi (22,530 km) every year.
They are filter feeders, primarily preying on small crustaceans such as krill, but have also been known to feed on tube worms.
Their only apparent natural predators are orcas, and their lifespan can reach as much as 70 years.