The Gray Whale (or Grey Whale) is a whale that travels between feeding and breeding grounds yearly. It reaches a length of about 52 feet, a weight of 36 tons and an age of 50–60 years. Gray Whales were once called Devil Fish because of their fighting behavior when hunted. The Gray Whale is one of the oldest species of mammals, having been on Earth for about 30 million years.
Two Pacific Ocean populations of Gray Whales exist: one of not more than 300 individuals whose migratory route is unknown, but presumed to be between the Sea of Okhotsk and southern Korea, and a larger one in the Eastern Pacific traveling between the waters off Alaska and the Baja California.
Gray Whales are a dark slate-gray in color and covered by characteristic gray-white patterns, scars left by parasites which drop off in the cold feeding grounds. They lack the numerous prominent furrows of the related species, instead bearing two to five shallow furrows on the underside of the throat. The Gray Whale lacks a dorsal fin, instead bearing several dorsal 'knuckles.'
In the fall, the Eastern Pacific, or California, Gray Whale starts a 2–3 month, 5,000–7,000 mile journey south along the west coast from Alaska to Mexico. The animals travel in small groups. The destinations of the whales are the coastal waters of Baja California and the southern Gulf of California, where they breed and the young are born. It is believed that the shallow waters in the lagoons there protect the newborn from sharks.
After several weeks, the return trip starts. This round trip of 14,000 miles, at an average speed of 10 km/h, is believed to be the longest yearly migration of any mammal.
The whale feeds mainly on bottom dwelling crustaceans, which it eats by turning on its side (usually the right) and scooping up the sediments from the sea floor. It is classified as a baleen whale and has a baleen, or whalebone, which acts like a sieve to capture small sea animals including amphipods taken in along with sand, water and other material. Mostly, the animal feeds in the northern waters during the summer; and opportunistically feeds during its migration trip, depending primarily on its extensive fat reserves.