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Whales: Gray Whales

© written by Tasha Guenther

Gray whale breaching

Photographer, Merill Gosho; used with permission
under the Public Domain

Gray Whales or Eschrichtius robustus are part of the order Mysticeti. Other whales (baleen whales) part of this order are Blue, Humpback, and Right. The Gray whale lives in shallower waters than most of the other baleen whales. Like their name suggests, Gray whales usually range from dark gray to black in colour. As well, they have white and yellow spots all over their bodies. These spots are usually mistaken for skin colour but the white spots are actually clusters of barnacles and the yellow spots are clusters of small crustaceans (hopping a ride!).

Characteristic of all baleen whales, Gray whales have two blowholes (toothed whales only have one). They have long, flat snouts at the front end of their bodies. They do not have dorsal fins, but they do have single humps on their backs that - depending on the size - are often mistaken for dorsal fins. Also, Gray whales are often mistaken for Humpback whales.

They can reach a length of 15 meters and can weigh up to 32,000 pounds! Like other baleen whales, the females are larger than the males.

Most interestingly, Gray whales have been studied as being very playful! Because they enjoy shallow waters, they have been known to actually ride waves (surf's up, dude!). Along with this, Gray whales commonly jump fully out of the water (see fluking), but it is suspected that they do this just for fun. If that's not cute enough, Gray whales have also been observed spyhopping - occuring when a whale lifts its head to look around.