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Gray Whale Facts

Size
Mid-range for baleen whales, 35-50 ft (10.6-15 m) and 20-40 tons (18-36 metric tons). Like other baleen whales, females are slightly larger than males. Calves average 15 ft (4.5 m) at birth and weigh 1,500 pounds (680 kg).

Life Span
Average 30 to 40 years, but as long as 60 years.

Color
Slate gray, heavily mottled with white from natural pigmentation, barnacles, and barnacle scars.

Blowholes
Paired, as with all baleen whales. (Toothed whales have only one.) Approximately 8” (20 cm) long.

Dorsal Ridge
Gray whales have no dorsal fin. Instead, a series of 6-12 “knuckles” or bumps are present along the dorsal ridge of the tail stock.

Flukes & Flippers
Tail-flukes are made of connective tissue and cartilage, approximately 12 ft (3.6 m) wide, weighing about 300-400 pounds (136-180 kg). Whale flukes are horizontal, compared to the vertical tails of fish.) Flippers range 4-5 ft (1.2-1.5 m) long, and are supported by a skeleton derived from the forelimb of land mammals.

Swimming & Diving
Cruising speed: 2-4 kts Top speed: approximately 10 kts Normal dive depth: 120 ft (36 m); estimated maximum: 500 ft (150 m). Normal duration of dive: 3-5 minutes, occasionally longer than 15 minutes.

Like most baleen whales, gray whales vocalize in very low tones or frequencies (less than 1,000 Hz), whereas toothed whales utilize higher frequencies. Gray whales produce sounds to communicate among themselves, and to find their way in darkness and in water with limited visibility, although their “echolocation” mechanism is not understood.

Predators
Killer whales, large sharks, and man.

Parasites
Two major types of external parasites attach themselves to gray whales. Barnacles are imbedded into the hide, especially on the head, back and tail. (A large gray whale may carry several hundred pounds of barnacles!) Cyamid lice, orange in color and up to 1” (2.5 cm) long, infest barnacle clusters and folds of skin over much of the whale’s body. Gray whales also host some internal parasites, as do all whales.

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