Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Oregon Coast Whale Watching June 24

Information on the Gray Whale
Gray Whales can reach a length about 40 to 50 feet, and weigh between 50,000 to 80,000 pounds. I have read that they can live up to 40-60 years, some 70 years. Just like people, once they reach middle age, they seem to get a little fatter. The Gray Whales have a double blow hole, most of the older grays have scars and tooth rake marks from encounters with Orca Whales / Killer of Whales.

The dimples on the young calf’s are where you can see the baby’s facial hair if you are lucky enough to get close. This dimply shortened face is characteristic of all young Gray Whales. A lot of times the calves will poke their heads out of the water to get a better look at us whale watchers. Whales are mammals, they breath air, have hair (calves have hairs around the front of their heads), are warm blooded, and give birth to live offspring that suckle milk from their mothers. The Gray Whale is in the sub-order Mysticeti family. The Mysticeti whales have a baleen instead of teeth. The male Gray Whale can reach 45 feet, while the female’s can reach 50 feet and weigh 30 or 35 tons. The largest Gray Whales have flukes, (tails) that can span ten feet.

While they are in the Northern waters, the Gray Whales feed mostly on tiny shrimp like amphipods. There are ample amphipods in the Northern waters during the summer because the longer days create more phytoplankton and zooplankton, which is the food amphipods feed on. Gray Whales are the only bottom feeding whale. The amphipods that the Gray Whale feeds on live on the muddy bottom of the North Pacific Ocean. One Gray Whale is believed to turn about 50 acres of sediment during a season of feeding. The mud that is churned is oxygenated, and exposed to the nutrient rich water and is seeded for the next year’s harvest. When gray whales feed on the bottom they like to use their right side to scour the bottom and find their food. This has been noted by several long time observers. When they feed they swallow mouthfuls of mud from the bottom, then use their baleen as a filter to drain out unwanted material. This leaves the amphipods stuck to the baleen inside their mouths. They then use their tongues to loosen the amphipods from the baleen, and swallow. During migration and while in calving areas, gray whales eat very little, but on occasion they will eat shrimp like mysids or small fish at the surface. The blubber they add during the summer feedings provides energy for the remainder of the year. Some whales can go without food for 3-5 months.

How did gray whales get their name?
The gray whale acquired its name from the gray patches and white mottling on its skin.

What does the gray whales skin feel like?
The skin has scratch marks and patches of white barnacles, and orange whale lice. A whale’s skin feels like a peeled hard-boiled egg. Most of the adult grays have scars and tooth-rake marks from encounters with Orcas. Light gray or white scars show where the whale barnacles have fallen off. Young whales have barnacle patches soon after they are born.

How big are gray whales?
Adult males can reach a length of 45 feet, adult females are slightly larger, and reach about 50 feet in length. Both sexes weigh up to 30-40 tons. The gray whales flukes, or tail can span up to 10 feet.

Do gray whales sing?
Gray whales make gurgles and warbling sounds, but nobody really understands what these sounds mean.

Do gray whales sleep?
This is what some scientists say, the whales don’t stop swimming during migration, but some think they may sleep and continue swimming on “autopilot.” They catch up on sleep in the lagoons, where they have even been observed snoring! Others say the whales take short naps of 10-20 minutes.

How can I recognize a gray whale?
Gray whales have streamlined bodies with narrow, tapered heads. The upper jaw slightly overlaps the lower jaw. The gray whale has no dorsal (top) fin. But about 2/3 of the way back on the body is a prominent dorsal hump. It is followed 6-12 knuckles along the dorsal ridge that extend to the fluke (tail). Its fluke is about 10 feet across, pointed at the tips, and deeply notched in the center. There are 2-5 grooves on the ventral throat.

How big are gray whales eyes?
An adult’s eyes on top of their mouth and are about the size of baseball. They are located about 8 feet from the tip of the gray whale’s jaws. They also have eyelids, I have also heard you can tell the age of a gray whale by the protein in their eyes (during a autopsy to determine the cause of death).

How long can a gray whale stay under water without coming up for air?
An adult gray whale can stay submerged up to 15-20 minutes.

Do gray whales have teeth?
No. The gray whale is in the sub-order Mysticeti. The Mysticeti whales have a baleen instead of teeth.

Are gray whales friendly?
Visitors to the calving and breeding lagoons sometimes encounter the “friendlies,” gray whales that come up to the small boats and let people to touch them. Gray whales aren’t very friendly during courtship and mating.

How long does a gray whale live?
Grays can expect to live about 40 to 60 years. Some can live 70 years.

At what age do gray whales mate and breed?
Gray whales reach sexual maturity somewhere between 5 and 11 years of age. A gray whale that lives to be 40 years old could have as many as 18 calves.

How long is a gray whale’s pregnancy?
Gestation is 11-12 months. Migration and reproduction are connected, since it’s best for the mothers to reach warm waters before giving birth, gestation is carefully timed. Gray whales have a special adaptation called delayed implantation. The embryo does not start developing in the mother’s body until a few months after she becomes pregnant. After mating in the lagoons (or during migration), the newly pregnant female returns to the arctic feeding waters on spring’s journey north. She feasts for herself and her unborn baby, and migrates south in fall or winter to the nursery lagoons to give birth. By the time she reaches the warm lagoons, the baby has been developing for 11-12 months and is ready for birth. A female usually has one calf every two years.

What do newborn calves look like?
Newborns are dark gray to black, some may have distinctive white markings, a calf weighs between 1,100-1,500 pounds. Babies weigh between 1500-2000 pounds when they are about 15 feet long.

What do baby gray whales eat?
Whales are mammals, so calves nurse on their mothers milk. They nurse between 6 to 8 months. They will drink about 50 gallons of mother’s milk each day. Whale milk is very rich, about 53% fat. (Human milk is about 2% fat.)

Where are the baby grays born?
Mating and calving occur mainly in the lagoons of Baja California, Mexico. The shallow, warm, sheltered lagoons are great nurseries. But, calving and mating are sometimes seen during the migration, too.

What makes the lagoons good nurseries?
The lagoons are safe from hungry orcas whales / killer of whales. The warm water helps the calves stay warm until they gain blubber. Also, the salty water makes the babies more buoyant so it’s easier for them to nurse.

Why do mothers and calves stay in the lagoons for 2-3 months?
It allows the calves to build up a thick layer of blubber. They need blubber for energy to swim during the northward migration. Blubber keeps them warm in the colder waters.

Are whales good mothers?
Yes, Mothers are very protective of their calves. They earned the name “Devilfish” from early whalers in the lagoons because of their violence towards whalers who killed their babies.

What happens when a baby whale is born underwater?
The mother supports her calf at the surface for its first few breaths of air. She brings the baby up to the surface with her own back and flukes.

When are gray whale calves born?
Calves are usually born in late December to early February in the lagoons of Baja California, Mexico. More than half of the births occur in Laguna Ojo de Liebre.

How big are baby gray whales when they’re born?
Calves can gain 60 to 70 pounds every day on their mother’s milk. They can reach 18 to 19 feet in length in their first 3 months of life.

Can baby whales swim right away?
Within about three hours of birth, a calf can keep itself afloat and swim on a steady course. A calf may rest on its mothers back or fins until it becomes a stronger swimmer.

What do gray whales eat?
Gray whales feed on small crustaceans such as amphipods, and tube worms found in bottom sediments. They feed mainly during the summer months of long daylight hours in the Arctic waters of the Bering and Chukchi seas. They can eat a ton a day of shrimp like amphipods. Gray whales are like cattle on a open range, they travel where ever they can find food. I have seen the resident grays whales we have off Depoe Bay feed for weeks in one area, then move 1-2 miles and feed for a month.

How do gray whales eat?
Since gray whales have no teeth, they capture and strain their baleen, which hangs from the roof of the mouth. Grays are the only bottom feeding whales. When they feed, a whale dives to the bottom, rolls on its right side and gulps mouthfuls of mud from the bottom. As the whale closes its mouth, water and sediments squirt out through the baleen plates. This leaves the amphipods stuck to the baleen inside their mouths. Whales then use their tongues to loosen the amphipods from the baleen, and swallow.

What are baleen plates?
Baleen whales have a series of 130-180 fringed, overlapping baleen plates hanging like curtains from each side of the upper jaw. Baleen is made of a fingernail-like material called keratin. The plates are off-white and about 2-10 inch long. Baleen plates filter water out and trap food in, they replace there baleen about every 5 years.

How fast do gray whales travel during migration?
Grays cover about 100 miles a day. They can travel from Unimak Pass in Alaska to Baja California in an average of 50-60 days.

Do all gray whales migrate?
No, Some gray whales are found year round on the coasts of British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, and California. The rest migrate from the arctic to the Baja California, Mexico coast.

When do gray whales make their yearly migration?
In October, the whales begin to leave their feeding grounds in the Bering and Chukchi Seas They swim south during the fall and winter to their mating and calving lagoons in Baja California, Mexico. The southward journey takes around 2-3 months. The whales return north during the late winter and spring (mid-February to early June).

How do the whales know when to migrate?
There are several reasons first, there are fewer hours of daylight, changes in water temperature, changes in food supply as the northern pack ice increases.

How fast do gray whales travel during migration?
They travel about 3-6 miles per hour.

When whales head south, where are they going?
Gray whales migrate to their winter breeding and calving grounds. This means the warm, shallow, lagoons of Mexico’s Baja California coast. The three main lagoons are Bahia Magdalena, Laguna Ojo de Liebre, and Laguna San Ignacio.

Do all the whales go at the same time?
Gray whales travel in groups. First to go south are the pregnant cows. The other adults and juveniles will follow about a month later. When whales head back north, the last to leave are the new mothers and calves.

Why do gray whales migrate along the coast?
The coastline may help them navigate the long distance. And being benthic (bottom) feeders, they have evolved with an orientation toward the seafloor where their food is located.

How far from the coast do they usually travel?
Along the coast of California, gray whales will migrate within 2.5 miles of the shore. Gray whales may pay more attention to water depth than distance from shore.

Do whales eat while in their winter breeding grounds?
Very little, during the months of migrating and socializing in the lagoons of Baja California, gray whales survive almost on their fat reserves built up in the summer feeding grounds. Some observers believe that gray whales eat nothing from the time they leave the Arctic.

Do gray whales lose a lot of weight while in their breeding grounds?
A 30-ton whale will expend so much energy on the migration to the Baja lagoons that it may lose 10-13 tons of its blubber. It eats little or nothing in the breeding grounds. But by early summer, most gray whales are heading back to the northern feeding grounds. Over the next five months they will gain back an estimated 15 to 30 percent of their total body weight.

How fast do gray whales travel during migration?
Grays travel about 100 miles a day. They can travel from Unimak Pass in Alaska to Baja California in an average of 50-60 days. They travel slowly when heading back north.

Do all gray whales migrate?
No, some gray whales can ne found between British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, and California. The rest migrate from the arctic to the Baja California, Mexico.

When do gray whales make their yearly migration?
In October, the whales begin to leave their feeding grounds in the Bering and Chukchi Seas. It takes them about 2-3 months. The whales return north during the late winter and spring (mid-February to early June).

Are gray whales an endangered species?
The gray whale was removed from the endangered species list in 1994. A small number of gray whales are still legally hunted.

Is there just one population of gray whales in the world?
The eastern north Pacific population is the largest surviving population. At one time there was a north Atlantic population, now extinct, possibly the victims of over-hunting. A Korean or western north Pacific stock now very depleted, also possibly from over-hunting.

What are a gray whales enemies?
Their natural enemies are sharks and orca whale’s / killer of whale’s. Their unnatural enemies are ocean pollution, huge fishing nets, and other human activities that harm their food chain or habitat.

Do humans harm gray whales and their habitat?
Humans no longer hunt gray whales in most places. But they may build resorts and crowd habitat with tourists, and discharge waste from cruise ships, which all increase ocean pollution. Some people believe that global warming, resulting in part from human activities, may be harming the gray whale’s food chain. The U.S. Navy has performed low-frequency sonar testing at sea. Researchers have found that gray whales exposed to high-intensity active sonar stray from their migration routes. Beached whales of other species have been found bleeding around their brains and ears, a sign of trauma caused by exposure to intense sound after encounters with this deadly technology.

Other Interesting Facts about Whales
If you are ever lucky enough to get close to touch a gray whale DON’T “Pat the whale, they will tense up” they like to too be petted.

Gray Whale calves will come back to the same feeding grounds as their mothers year after year, do to habit and frame of reference.

Whales hear sounds at a low frequency.

The Blue Whales population is about 2,000. They are about 25 feet long at birth, and can grow up to 100 feet. When a Blue Whale spouts their blows are 30-40 high.

In the last 20 years 336 thousand Blue Whales were killed in Antarctica.

Ships are responsible for 50% of Bow Whales fatalities. I have heard they can live up to 120 years, possibly 200 years.

A Gray Whale that is 40 years old could have as many as 18 calves.

One interest thing I heard the other day was a Gray Whale with their tail missing, thought to be caused by a line cutting it off, I did see a picture of it, but haven’t found it on the web.

Information on the “Whales Tail”
The Whales Tail is a 26' Zodiac style inflatable boat that carries up to 6 people. It was designed specifically for Dockside Charters to give passengers the utmost in sightseeing and whale watching experiences. The Whales Tail is owned and operated by Captains Gary and Kit Stephenson.

Join us on an exciting and exhilarating whale watching excursion. The Whales Tail offers a unique vantage point that puts you "up close and personal" for observing Oregon's resident gray whales as they feed along the shores of Depoe Bay. Don't be surprised if you notice the whales watching you as intently as you watch them.

We will try and provide you with a once in a lifetime experience that is not to be missed. After a trip on the Whales Tail you'll be telling tales of all the whales and wonders you've seen on your adventure off Depoe Bay.

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Depoe Bay Events
Boiler Bay Fireworks Display
Highlight your Independence Day celebration.
When: July 3 Dusk
Location: Boiler Bay
Cost: Free

Something new this year we are offering are sweatshirts that have our Whales Tail logo on the back, different colors and sizes are available.

Daily Trip Times
8:00am, 9:30am, 11:00am, 12:30pm, 2:00pm, 3:30pm, 5:00pm, 6:30pm

The coffee is fresh and free, so stop by and say hello.and see what's going on.

Gift Certificates are available year round.

Thank you for visiting our website, we hope to see you aboard the Whales Tail.

Dockside Charters
270 Coast Guard Pl.
Depoe Bay, Oregon 97341

Toll Free:1-800-733-8915