Get to Know Gray Whales

Book Now

Gray Whale Fast Facts

Scientific name: Eschrichtius robustus

Class: Mammalia

Average length: 42 to 49 feet

Average weight: Approximately 90,000 pounds

Average lifespan: Unknown

Cruising speed: 2 to 6 miles, but can go up to 10-11 mph in bursts when in danger.

Gestation period: 12 to 13 months.

Favorite snack: A savory amphipod quiche with a side of mud pudding.

Favorite tunes: Strictly musicals and show tunes.

Favorite pastime: Deep sea bingo.

Gray Whale illustration

Gray Whales: Dive Deeper

What do you call a 40 to 50-foot lice covered, barnacle encrusted, mud sucking, bottom feeder?

Whale, here at Captain Dave’s we are referring to some of our most favorite and friendly pals, the gray whales!

Gray Whale Migration

Gray whales have one of the longest migrations of any mammal. They begin their 12,000-mile round trip migration from their summer feeding frenzy in the Arctic waters of the Bering and Chukchi Seas, and head south to the warm lagoons of Baja California, Mexico to mate and give birth to their calves. When they’re born gray whale calves are about 15 feet long and will gain over 50 pounds a day feeding on mother’s milk, which is 50% fat.  In comparison human milk is only about 3% to 5% fat.

The whales will spend several weeks in the protected lagoons. New mothers linger the longest to give their calves time to increase their layer of blubber.

As these slow moving, gentle, animals glide through the nutrient-rich ocean waters, their cuddle-hungry friends, the barnacles, have an opportunity to get comfy and cozy on their large 40-50 foot, 90,000-pound body. These barnacles then play host to the lovely lice that hop on board these mottled gray creatures, and hitchhike their way across the deep blue.

What Do Gray Whales Eat?

Gray whales are baleen whales that feed primarily on small crustaceans called amphipods. They don’t typically catch their food in the water column like blue whales or humpback whales. Instead, a gray whale dives to the bottom, rolls on its side, and scoops up a mouthful of mud. The whale closes its mouth and pushes out the water and bottom sediment through baleen plates that hang from the whale’s upper jaw, leaving behind the amphipods to swallow. YUM!

Their feasting adventures in the Bering and Chukchi Seas is all in preparation for their five-month long fast, which begins shortly after their departure from the cold Alaskan waters due to there being very little of their preferred food south of Oregon. And you thought the time between lunch and dinner made ya hangry?

Although gray whales are known for being bottom feeders, they’re also known for taking advantage of an opportunity to sample some of the local cuisine in Southern California and other areas off the U.S. west coast.  They’ll eat krill or pelagic crabs in the water column or look for food in kelp forests.

Threats to Gray Whales

In addition to their lack of food, gray whales face several other challenges. Their main non-human threat comes from orcas. These gentle giants often fall prey to killer whales, and according to N.O.A.A. estimates, up to 35% of gray whale calves may be preyed on by killer whales. Another threat is one that takes the lives of nearly 1,000 whales and dolphins every day. Scientist estimate that every year, 308,000 dolphins and whales worldwide die because of fishing gear entanglement.

Our very own Captain Dave is all too familiar with this marine wildlife catastrophe, and organized Orange County’s first whale disentanglement group in 2008. He has successfully disentangled several gray whales. One very well known rescue, both in Southern California and nationwide, is that of “Lily”.

Lily, whose disentanglement made national headlines when she stranded herself inside Dana Point Harbor, drew crowds from near and far, winning the hearts of onlookers across the country. Her amazing story left a deep impact on Capt. Dave, who soon after Lily’s passing, authored the award-winning book, “Lily, A Gray Whale’s Odyssey”, a magnificent photographic journey of a gray whale’s migration. Capt. Dave has also launched his largest catamaran, “Lily Whale Research/Rescue Safari”, a 62-foot luxury whale watching vessel that has been specially equipped to rescue entangled whales and dolphins.

Although the story of Lily’s experience is one that will leave you wanting to join ‘Greenpeace,’ and bow out on eating fish and chips, these amazing animals don’t all end up as she did. In fact, these beautiful bottom feeders are frequent flyers on our whale watching safari’s during their annual migration, and love to get up close and personal with our vessels and passengers, no strings attached! It’s not uncommon to find these 30 to 40 ton animals breaching or spy-hopping just outside of Dana Point Harbor in their effort to take a look around and get their bearings.

We have the amazing opportunity to encounter these barnacle bejeweled buddies, between the months of December through May, as they are trekking along on their annual migration. We occasional see gray whales as early as November, and as late as July, and love their visits so much that every March, Dana Point celebrates the gray whale migration with the Festival of Whales. The Dana Point Festival of Whales began nearly 50 years ago as an annual community event and now attracts nearly 100,000 visits each year. Residents and visitors celebrate migrating gray whales and other marine wildlife with ocean themed activities and presentations emphasizing education and environmental responsibility.

So, if you’re in the mood to get comfy and cozy with these gray gals and guys, come on-board with us during one of our daily whale watching adventures, where we’ll get you as close as possible to these friendly, gentle, and oh so unique creatures. We won’t be able to get you as close as the barnacles are, but we’ll sure try our best to provide you with the most unforgettable and intimate experience out there, minus the lovely lice.

And hey, you may even have one pop up and sneak a peek at ya, or wave hello!