Point Reyes National Seashore

Point Reyes National Seashore

Species Spotlight: Gray Whale

February 18, 2011, 10:13 am

pacific gray whalePacific gray whales are one of the largest mammals on earth and a vital part of the Pacific Ocean ecosystem. Point Reyes National Seashore is an excellent place to observe these magnificent creatures in their natural habitat. The best times to spot the whales are in January and March at the headlands of Point Reyes.

The gray whale logs the most migratory miles of any mammal on earth with a grand total of over 10,000! The whales migrate from the waters of Alaska all the way down to Baja, California. The warm waters of Baja provide whales with a calving ground in the winter. In the summer, Alaska’s cool waters are teaming with vegetation and provide whales with the fuel.

Pacific gray whales typically feed by skimming the water at shallow depths for krill. The gray whales use their baleen to trap the krill and the tongue to swallow their catch. The summer eating leads to the whales gaining 30% of their body weight. Such large animals were viewed as extremely profitable back in times when whale oil was a premium.

Over time, the gray whale in the Pacific became hunted to the brink of extinction. Offering blubber and oil, hunters depleted the species in search of a profitable business. In the 1930s, with only an estimated 1,000 whales remaining, an international ban placed on hunting gray whale helped turn around the species future. Today, there are approximately 25,000-27,000 gray whales swimming the Pacific waters. There is still work to be done to protect these animals. Although their numbers have rebounded significantly, whales still get trapped in fishing nets.

Whales are still a huge industry and continue to be profitable, but in a completely different manner from whaling days. In the past, hunters made money off whale oil. Now, their migratory patters allow whale watching to become a thriving industry without killing the species. Each year, on their way to calving and feeding grounds, gray whales pass right by Point Reyes. Boats are able to get up close and let visitors observe the swimming giants.

Fun Facts

Baby whales are big animals even from the beginning. At birth, a calf is typically about 15 feet long and can weight up to 2,000 pounds.

In just one summer, whales will eat a total of 65 tons of food.

Whales will swim for almost two whole months, approximately 55 days, during their migration. Now that’s a long road trip!

A mother whale produces milk that is approximately 40% fat. That’s about the same consistency as cottage cheese or margarine!