Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Gray Whale

Coloration: Gray whales are so because of their mottled gray coloration. The natual pigmentation can range from almost black to almost white and can have spots that range from the size a marble to a basketball. This mottled appearance is enhanced by barnacles. barnacle scars, and whale lice.

Rostrum (Head): The rostrum extends from the tip of the snout to the blowholes a length of about 6 feet. The head area is covered with barnacles and whale lice. Gray whales that feed on the bottom rub off barnacles and leave barnacle scars. Young gray whales have a dimped rostrum with one hair in each dimple.

The most conspicuous identifying characteristics of gray whales are their size, distinctive mottled gray coloring, dorsal hump (no dorsal fin) and the knuckles along the back of the dorsal hump.
Gray whales range in size from 35-45 feet long and 30-40 tons, about the length of a school bus and the weight of ten elephants. Females weigh more and are longer than adult males.

Blow: The gray whales blow is about 6-10 feet high and is heart shaped if seen from behind on a calm day. About 100 gallons of air is expelled from the blow at speeds of 150-200 miles per hour.

Blowholes: Gray whales have two blowholes like all baleen whales.

Baleen Plates: There are 300 blonde colored baleen plates about one foot long that hang from the top jaw. Bristles on the inside edges of these plates trap food.

Throat Grooves: Two to five throat grooves on the bottom of the throat expand when the whales are feeding.
Flippers: Behind the throat grooves are pointed paddle shaped flippers.

Eyes: The eyes of the gray whale are brown in color and the size of an orange. The eyes are located at the end of the mouth line, 7-8 feet from the rostrum tip, gray whales have very good eyesight.

Dorsal Hump: Gray whales don't have a dorsal fin, instead they have a dorsal hump on the back.
Knuckles: 6-12 bumps called knuckles are seen behind the gray whales dorsal hump. In some whales these are very distinct and in others they are not. Sometimes the distance between each knuckle can help you identify individual gray whales.

Tail Fluke: An adults tail fluke is about 9 feet wide. Each fluke has a pattern which can help you identify individual whales.

Flukeprint: A large circle of smooth water formed by the tail fluke when the tail fluke goes under the surface for a dive.