Gray Whales in San Diego

It’s that time of year again! Gray whales have been spotted in San Diego while making their Southern migration to Baja, Mexico and Southern California waters. This migration is to give birth to their young and to mate. That means it’s the prime time to get out on a boat to go see these beautiful mammals! Before you decide to go out on the water, here is some history and facts about gray whales and why we are so lucky we see them in San Diego today.

Hunted to Near Extinction

Back in the 17th century, the hunting of Gray Whales almost led them to extinction. They were known as “devil-fish” due to their violent behavior they would have while they were being hunted. Gray Whales were hunted for their oil and whalebone’s, or baleen. This was used in women’s corsets or for the ribbing of umbrellas. Conception is on average 13.5 months for one calf to be born, and this calf will not reach sexual maturity until at least eight years of age. Due to this long period between birth and possible reproduction, their numbers dropped drastically with hunting. It wasn’t until 1946 that they were put on international protection. This protection allowed the population of Gray Whales to rise and be removed from the endangered species list. This allows us to view them in their natural habitat today!

A Little About Gray Whales

  • Gray whales are one of the smaller whales seen off the coast of San Diego averaging between 44 to 48 feet in length
  • They have one of the longest known migration paths
    • approximately 8,000 to 16,000 miles long (Arctic during the summer and Mexico during the winter)
  • These whales are known as baleen whales
    • they have approximately 300 plates on the roof of their mouth that are roughly 0.5 to 3.5 m (1.6 to 11.5 ft) in length that have hundreds of keratin strands hanging from them
  • Gray Whales are bottom feeders
    • They will drag their open mouth along the ocean floor taking in a large mouthful of sediment and water
    • The whale will then push its tongue against the baleen strands to filter through the sediment and water to trap and feed on crustaceans and other small organisms
  • Due to hunting, Gray Whales are only found in the Pacific Ocean
    • The Eastern North Pacific group is the largest group of known Gray Whales while the Western North Pacific group, near Sakhalin island, Russia, is almost extinct.
  • Gray whales are normally “crusty” in appearance due to being covered in parasites and other organisms, but that doesn’t make them any less fascinating to see!
  • During the Northern migration in early 2019, a large amount of gray whales died off and washed up on West coast beaches
    • The cause seems to be starvation, but has not been confirmed yet
  • The amount of bodies that washed up is estimated to be only about 10% of the die off

If you would like to read more, please visit NOAA Gray Whale Unusual Mortality Event

How big is a Gray Whale?

The Gray Whale may be one of the smaller species we see in San Diego, but it still is incredible how large they are! In order to show just how big these creatures are, we’ve created a comparison chart for you!

Visual representation of a gray whale size and weight

The sheer mass of a Gray Whale is amazing to see!