The Friendly Whales of Mexico!

In the warm winter waters of Baja California live calves, cows, and bulls that are in a word large. The calves at birth are almost 3 Meters (15 feet) long. When full grown the bulls are about 12M (40 feet), and the cows are up to 16 M or about 50 feet and can weigh up to 32,000 kg (70,000 lb., or 35 tons). To give you an idea as to how big a cow is the next time you see one of those big cross country buses well it's about the same length as these cows. What are we talking about? Paul Bunion's Blue Ox "Babe" and his family? No! We are talking about the friendly whales of Baja California, Mexico,  the gray whale (Echrichtius Robustus).


Grays are a mid size whale generally gray in color and are covered with patches of barnacles and other parasites (whale lice). Patterns of the barnacles differ from whale to whale and allow positive identification of individuals.  These parasites seem to bother the whales sensitive skins and whales have been seen apparently trying to rub them off on the sea floor or against the bottoms of boats or other floating structures. Breaching may also be an attempt to dislodge these annoyances. Gray whales, at least in Mexican waters, are surprisingly  warm to the touch. There skin is not a smooth as that of faster cetaceans, like dolphin, because when the barnacles are finally scraped off a slight indentation is left in the skin that can be seen as well as felt. The are also short (1 cm or so in length) thick  hairs (a few mm) along the upper lip of some individuals. In place of the dorsal (top) fin are a number of bumps or knuckles running along the back, starting a bit past half way and extending towards the tail. The head of the gray whale is also some what narrow. From my observations of the whales in Laguna San Ignacio it can be deduced that the head and front flippers are use for directional control, and the tail is used for propulsion. That tail is about 5 M or 16 feet wide and is said to generate about 500 horse power.


Most gray whales are born in the shallow lagoons in Baja California. While in the lagoons the Mothers teach there calves how to swim! YES that is right. The mothers must TEACH the calves how to swim, supporting them for the first few days of life.  The calfs instinctually know to breath when there blowhole is out of the water and close it when it is not. Swiming LapsWhile in the lagoons the mothers take the calves to the mouth of the lagoons and have them swim against the tides when it changes. Mother and calf are also seen swimming laps to help get the babies in shape for there long swim to summer Arctic feeding grounds.

The baby calves are about 5 M (15 feet) long at birth and weigh about a ton, or perhaps a bit more - about the size of a small car. The calves drink milk that is 55% fat. The "normal" milk you have on your kitchen table is less than 4% fat! On this diet the baby whales gain about 50 Kg (150 Lbs) a day!


While gray whales winter, give birth, and mate in Baja they then make the longest migration know of any mammal. Swimming along the North American coastline at about 5 kph (3 mph) from the warm waters of Baja to the cold waters of the Bering and Chukchi seas off Alaska, a one way trip of  about 9,700 km (6,000 mi). There the gray whales feed on small tube worms living on the bottom, about 120 m (395 ft) in depth. From the time the whales left the previous fall (November) the adults have not eaten anything until arriving in there arctic feeding grounds in the spring (April). Now the grays start foraging along the sea floor. Turning on there side the whales gulp huge mouthfuls of silt, and using there tongue strain the mud and water through there baleen leaving small tube worms and small crustaceans behind to be swallowed. It is now known that the grays will feed on small fish and mysids while migrating given the opportunity.

Follows is a picture from the book WHALES by Seymour Simon, published by Scholastic (0-439-06237-3). The picture shows a gray whale actually feeding on the bottom, as you can see the whale is feeding from the side of his(or her) mouth.

Feeding Whale



The 130- 180 baleen plates in the whales upper jaw are shorter than any other baleen whales, and only two, or rarely 3 or 4, pleats are present to allow for expansion of the lower mouth.  The small number of mouth groves, short baleen, lack of a dorsal fin, slow swimming speed, "unusual" bottom feeding style, and giving birth in the Mexican lagoons   has left a split in the scientific community. Some think that grays are close to the original whale stock, others see these as specialization making Grays an advanced whale type. I guess only the whales and the maker know for sure.

Grays are classified as follows:

Dealings with Man

Gray whales are also called "Devil Fish" because of the love the mothers show for there calves. This sounds strange but let me explain. When man was hunting the Grays almost to extinction - twice - whalers found for them a gold mine in the shallow lagoons in Baja California. The whalers would harpoon the baby whales to get at the large mother whales!  The mothers would "charge" the whalers trying to save her calf and would then be killed as well. Whalers did hunt the Gray Whales that used to live along the Asian coast to extinction.  Fortunately in 1946 gray whales became legally protected and have increased to over 21,000 souls. With the number of whales approaching what is thought to be there historical numbers [along the North American coast] the whales have been removed from the Endangered Species List, but are still protected by the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling, the International Whaling Commission, and by the Marine Protection Act of 1972.

However...The United States has allowed the Makah Indian Nation to kill 5 and maim 5 gray whales. The Russians have also gotten into the act and are slaughtering Gray Whales as well!

We have taught Grays to befriend mankind. It is immoral to kill them! We are NOT just talking about a few whales as Vice President Gore has stated. The problems are that the United States went around the International Whaling Commission, so now other "historical" whaling nations, like Japan and Norway want to start whaling as well!

Write to the IWC, the President, the United Nations (It might help), you local paper, or even the Makah Nation!

Support any or all of the following. The following groups to my knowledge are Actively, and PEACEABLY involved in AntiWhaling activities.

The Makah have ATTACKED the peaceful demonstrators and stolen there property (A Zodiac Rubber boat).  Using slingshots the Makah have attacked with rocks, ball bearings, and even fish hooks!

When I think of interactions between Grays and Humans ... I'd rather not think of the above. Rather the following!

A Whale spraying us for fun ... A whale spraying the other boat!

                                            ...another posing for a picture!A small whale Posing for a picture.

  Rubbing a whale. That mouth is about as along as the ponga almost 5 meters (14 feet)!
Patting a whale on the snout ... look at all the barnacles! Small whale snout

Some Gray Whale Behaviors.


Gray whales cruise at about 3 or 4 knots, it is this slow speed that makes it possible for the barnacles and lice to stay attached. A Gray can maintain a speed of 10 knots for about an hour. Top speed is obtained while breaching and as been calculated to be over 30 knots.  Whales swim by moving there tails up and down. Fish move from side to side.

Spout or Blow: 

Whale spout is really just what happens when the whale exhales. Gray Whales, like all whales, are mammals and breathe air. When the warm moist air from inside the whale leaves the blowhole on the top it condenses and you can see the spout!  Baleen whales have a divided blow hole, kind of like your nose. From the front or rear the spout has a thin heart shaped look to it and is 2 or 3 meters high (6-10 feet). Toothed whales only have a single blow hole. Different species of cetaceans can be discerned by there spouts more or less.

Spy Hop:

Spy Hopping is where the whale sticks his (or her) head out above the water for a look around. Some times this is just a quick up and down motion, other times the whales may leave there heads above the water for extended times. In shallow waters the whales may actually be "standing" with there tail flukes on the sea floor. Spy hoping may be an aid in navigation, or perhaps the whale just wants to see something on the surface. Whales see quite well both above water and below. There eyes contain powerful muscles that change the shape of the lens to allow it to focus both below and above the surface.


Whales will generally take a few short breaths and then dive deep for a number of minutes. Grays can stay submerged for over 8 minutes and dive to deeper than 150 Meters (500 feet). Before slipping totally underwater the tail or fluke is shown. A Tail of A Whale!


Breaching is where a whale propels much of there body out of the water. I have seen whale do this 11 or 12 times in a row. I might be a man whale showing off to the lady whales, it might be to dislodge lice and barnacles, or it might just be whales having a good time.

New Feature ... VIDEO (QuickTime3 Format)

Close up of whale swimming by on the side(Mexico 1998)[1.1MB]

Gray Whale going South (USA 1998)[1.7 MB]

Same Gray Whale swimming south (USA 1998) [4.5 MB]

The following VIDEO are in QuickTime4 Format

Close up of whale swimming by (Mexico 1999)[1.1MB]

Cow and Calf (Mexico 1999)[1.2 MB]

Jim eating a taco (Mexico 1999) [1.5 MB]

See who went last year (1999) - from the MOOvie [3.5 MB]

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Last Update: 30-May-2011 CE