Many people are interested in whales. I am interested in gray whales in particular, which are the subject of my latest novel, Cetus Finalis: A Gray Whale Odyssey. During the course of writing the novel, I absorbed and compiled a lot of interesting facts about gray whales (scientifically referred to as Eschrichtius robustus) and the many other kindreds of whales that share the ocean. Here are some of my favorite facts about gray whales.
Gray whales are continental shelf dwelling whales, which undergo the longest yearly migration of any mammal on earth, many thousands of miles. Gray whales prefer shallower seas. They feed by diving to the bottom and scooping sea floor silt and mud into their large mouths, which are lined with bristly keratin-based baleen screens which trap the shellfish, amphipods, and small crustaceans in their mouths, while straining out the muddy sediments and water. Then they scrape the scrumptious marine life off of their baleen with their massive tongues and dive for another mouthful.
Gray whales migrate a yearly migration from nearly equatorial waters to northerly arctic waters. Consequently, gray whales traverse about one diameter of the globe every year, swimming most all of the time.
Gray whales are the only species in their genus and family (That Eschrichtius robustus again).
Gray whales were nicknamed “scragg” whales or “devilfish” because of their abrasive visages encrusted with callosities, and their abrasive reputation for sinking wooden whaling vessels with their large, sturdy rostrums the size and weight of a battering ram.
The Atlantic gray whale is the only population of whale to become extinct. It happened in the late 17– or early 1800s. The grey whales may have been over fished, but it is just as likely that they were starved out of the food chain by the massive trawling nets the Basque and American whaling fleets used between the 16th and 19th centuries, scraping flora and fauna off the sea floor (grays feeding grounds) in one, brusque motion.
Gray whales grow to be about 45 feet long and weigh 30 to 40 tons. By way of comparison, a city bus is about 40 feet long and weighs 5 to 15 tons, depending on its human freight. Grays are not the largest whales by far. The largest whale is the blue whale, which can grow to 100 feet long and weigh 100-150 tons. The blue whale is the largest animal to ever have evolved on Earth, larger than all dinosaurs.
Grays can live to be 70 or more years old, which is a decent average. They are not the longest lived whales by a longshot. The longest lived whale is the exclusively arctic-dwelling bowhead whale, which does not migrate and spends the entire year in the cold. This refrigeration effect seems to work, because bowheads can live to be 200 years old. Yes, there is probably a bowhead whale alive today that was alive when Moby Dick was written.
Like all other whales, gray whales sing. Gray whales communicate sonically as readily as any other of the baleen whales. They use very low frequency warbles, snorts, and squeals that humans can not easily hear, similar to their open water rorqual cousins the blues and finbacks. (Toothed whales, like sperms, orcas, dolphins and such, use high frequency waves which enable their sonic imaging abilities. Only the toothed whales have sonar.) No one is sure what gray whale song means.
Thank you for reading. Please, leave a comment below:
What do you know about your favorite whale?