The gray whale (Eschrichtius robustus), named after the famous Danish Zoologist Daniel Frederik Eschricht, is a baleen whale that migrates between feeding and breeding grounds yearly. Although not a very pretty beast; what with it being encrusted with barnacles and marked white in places by parasites clinging on to it, it makes up for it’s positive interactions with human in the present day.
It reaches a length of a mid-size school bus at 14.9 meters (49 ft), and a weight of 36 tonnes (40 short tons), and lives between 55 and 70 years. The gray whale is the sole surviving species in the family Eschrichtiidae. This mammal descended from filter-feeding whales that appeared at the beginning of the Oligocene, over 30 million years ago.
There used to be a population of gray whales that lived in the Atlantic but that went extinct mostly due to hunting in the 18th century. Now two populations of these whales exist; one in North America and the other in the Northern Asia. A few years ago, there was a sighting off the coast of Israel/Palestine of a gray whale and there has been another sighting off the coast of Namibia. Could it be that the whales are starting to re-establish themselves in old breeding grounds. One sincerely hopes so.
The Asian population is less numerous and almost going extinct too. They number around 200 individuals in an optimistic estimate. The American population is alive and quite numerous at somewhere near 20,000 individuals.
The gray whale is one of the animal kingdom’s greatest migratory creatures. As shown below, they move from their feeding grounds near the Bering Straits in small groups called pods and swim 5000 to 7000 miles the warmer waters off the coast of Baja. The whales winter and breed in the shallow southern waters and warmer climate.
Female Gray whales mate with several males and give birth after a gestation period of a year. Some are also known to breed every two years in lean periods.
Like all whales, gray whales surface to breathe, so migrating groups are often spotted from North America’s west coast. These whales were once the target of extensive hunting, and by early in the 20th century they were in serious danger of extinction. It is estimated that whaling fleets could be the reason that the Asian whales are much closer to extinction. Gray whales have been granted protection from commercial hunting by the International Whaling Commission (IWC) since 1949, and are no longer hunted on a large scale.
They are very human-friendly beast. Take a look at this lovely video
In 1994, the gray whale was removed from the United States endangered species list. if the numbers in the Eastern Pacific increase a little bit and the they can make an Atlantic comeback, we will all be a bit happier.