Gray whales are bigger than a school bus, but they are agile swimmers. Tourists love to watch them migrating up the western coasts of North America.
- Adult gray whales are 40 to 50 feet long and weigh 30 to 40 tons. They are peaceful mammals, feeding on small plants and invertebrates.
- They are mottled grey but parasites and barnacles often live on their skin, making them look like they’re covered with rough, crusty rocks.
- Gray whales use their snouts to dig for animals on the bottom of the ocean. They filter their food through baleen, a series of 18-inch long plates attached to their jaw. Baleen is strong, but flexible, and similar to human fingernails. In the late 1800s, it was used in women’s undergarments.
- Gray whales migrate more than 12,000 miles every year. They spend their summers off the coast of Alaska. During the winter, they move to Mexico’s warm waters to breed. Traveling north again is dangerous because orca whales hunt the young gray whale calves. Once they reach Alaska and Canada, the gray whales spend their energy eating and gaining weight for the next migration.
- During the 1800s, gray whales were hunted almost to extinction. They are protected now and their numbers are stable.
- Agile: able to move smoothly and quickly
- Invertebrate: a simple animal lacking a backbone
- Baleen: fingernail-like material in a whale’s mouth
Questions and Answers
Question: Do gray whales have gills?
Answer: Gray whales, like all whales, are mammals and do not have gills. They have a blowhole on the top of their head and come up occasionally for air.
Watch a video of gray whales migrating.