Gray Whale facts

It’s gray whale season in San Diego!  Here are 10 interesting gray whale facts that you may not have known!                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   

vast migrations

Starting with one of the most shocking gray whale facts, the length of their commute. These creatures undertake massive migrations, surpassing others in the animal kingdom. The commencement of the gray whale migration is triggered by the icy waters near the northern Bering Sea start freezing in winter. The whales embark on their journey down the West Coast without even pausing for food along the way. It spans from 5,000 to 7,000 miles each way, totaling 12,000 to 14,000 miles roundtrip. Pregnant mothers are the first to reach the lagoons of Mexico, where they give birth and recuperate after the arduous journey, before returning to their feeding grounds in the northern Bering Sea. 

No longer endagered

By 1950, almost all gray whale populations had been reduced. The extensive travels made them easy targets for hunters, ultimately leading to their near extinction. Their high visibility and accessibility near coastlines created optimal conditions for whale hunting, nearly to extinction. This  practice came to an end in 1946 with the creation of the International Whaling Commission (IWC). Following the establishment of the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the gray whale species began a  recovery. Today, they are safeguarded by a variety of organizations. Unfortunately, the Western Pacific stock remains critically low, with only 200+ individuals. 

Heart-Shaped Blow

One of the best gray whale facts comes just in time for Valentines day! When a gray whale emerges for a breath and releases an exhale, they create a  heart-shaped spout for us to witness. It becomes especially heartwarming when multiple gray whales travel together, filling the air above the surface with more than one heart shape. When the heart shape they observe is smaller, it indicates the presence of a baby born along the migration route, accompanying its mother to warmer waters.

The only living Eschrichtiidae

The gray whale is the only living member of the baleen whale family, Eschrichtiidae. This is because of the way that these whales feed. Gray whales distinguish themselves by possessing two blowholes and baleen instead of teeth, setting them apart from other rorqual whales. Despite sharing similarities with rorqual whales in their feeding habits, gray whales stand in a unique class slightly beyond this genus. 

highly studied

Gray whales are extensively studied due to their high visibility and ease of observation from the surface. The close proximity of these magnificent creatures to our coastlines allows researchers to employ various identification methods.Their frequent proximity to coastlines and predictable migration patterns make them accessible to study both from land and water. Some gray whales spend their entire lives off the Oregon coast, making it easy to investigate their behaviors.

Unique look

While all whales have differences, some have similarities with certain species. This gray whale fact marks their unmistakable identity. They resemble massive floating rocks and lack a dorsal fin. Instead, they have a dorsal “hump” and a series of six to twelve “knuckles” that look like a bumpy ridge down their back. Also, unlike most whales, the gray whale has paddle-shaped flippers, which help them nestle into the mud and suck in the sediment from the bottom. Our intimate 6 passenger vessels can give you an unforgettable encounter with these unique creatures! 








Barnacles and whale lice are familiar companions to gray whales. Gray whales host more of these hitchhikers than any other whale species in the ocean. An essential gray whale fact is their relationship with these organisms, which proves crucial for the well-being of both species. Barnacles use the gray whales as a means of transportation, hitching rides from colder waters to warmer ones. Additionally, same whale lice actually play a beneficial role in healing injuries that gray whales may sustain throughout their lives. Therefore, despite the extra weight of around 400 pounds, carrying these companions is not only tiring but also vital for the survival of gray whales. 


Gray whales are categorized as bottom feeders because their primary source of food is obtained from the ocean floor. Research reveals that these bottom feeders exhibit a preference when it comes to the orientation of their feeding approach. During feeding, gray whales pivot their large bodies precisely 90º to the right, most commonly, or left, allowing them to position their baleen against the ocean subfloor. Scientists have discerned the whales’ preferred rolling direction, the right side, by examining the wear and tear on the sides of their rostrum or snout and the baleen within, indicating which side has experienced more abrasion from scraping sediment. 

the "devil fish"

Here goes one of the more concerning gray whale facts. Gray whales, spending a lot of their time in shallow waters, provided an ideal setting for fishermen to employ harpoons as their primary hunting method against these vulnerable creatures. This lead these animals to retaliate when under assault and earned them the term “devil fish”. However, gray whales have since had no animosity towards humankind. Despite years of resentment for the treatment they endured, the implementation of various protection acts has allowed the gray whale population to forgive. 

no chewing

Despite their colossal size, gray whales source their primary meals from some of the tiniest organisms. Distinguishing themselves with a set of keratin-like plates lining their mouths instead of teeth, these whales utilize this adaptation for hunting. The baleen plates function by filtering food from the water inside the whale’s mouth. Baleen plates capture the whale’s prey while allowing water to pass through freely.Within a gray whale’s mouth, up to 180 baleen plates hang down inside their jaw and measure approximately 18 inches in length.

Get first hand experience

Don’t let the opportunity to see the unique gray whale pass you by! Join us for an adventure on the water using the link below!