Wednesday, December 9, 2009

About Gray Whales

Scientific name
Eschrichtius robustus (ess-SCHRICK-tee-yuss-roe-BUSS-tuss).
Named by J.E. Gray, means “Robustus” is Latin for “strong” or “robust.”

Gray whales, the most commonly seen whales along the Oregon coast, are the most primitive of the baleen whales. Their average life expectancy is 50 years, but researchers have discovered a pregnant female estimated at more than 80 years old.

• Size: As adults, females are generally 45 feet long and weigh 35 tons. Mature males measure up to 35 feet long and weigh from 17-30 tons.

• Coloring: Ranges from mottled gray to black, covered with lighter colored abrasions, blotches, scars, white barnacles and orange whale lice. Some of the lighter coloring is natural, with scarring from barnacles, orca attacks, or encounters with boat propellers causing the remainder. Barnacles covering large areas of their heads and backs can make them appear almost white. These natural color patterns, barnacles and scarring from various sources make it possible to identify individual whales.

• Head: About one-fifth the body length. Appears V-shaped when viewed from above. Upper jaw is narrow and slightly arched. Two to five deep, broad furrows are in the region of the throat, allowing the mouth cavity to expand when feeding.

• Blowholes: When exhaling, sends spout of condensed air, or “blow,” six to 12 feet in the air. When whale is coming toward you or moving away, spout from its two blowholes can appear as a “V,” or heart- shaped.

• Dorsal Hump: Instead of a dorsal fin, the Gray whale has a dorsal hump and a series of six to 12 small humps called “knuckles” along the dorsal ridge to its tail.

• Tail: Measures as much as 10 feet across from tip to tip and is deeply notched in the center.