Gray whale

Eschrichtius robustus

13 - 15m



No dorsal fin

Unlike most baleen whales, the gray whale does not have rorqual pleats. Instead, it has a rigid triangular-shaped blunt snout with a long, slightly arched mouth line that it uses alongside its baleen plates for filtering small crustaceans from the sea bed.

Key features: 

  • Grey coloured body marbled with paler scars and covered in barnacles, whale lice and other crustaceans 
  • Lacking a dorsal fin instead has a dorsal hump and a series of knuckles from the hump to the flukes


Gray whales produce a low V-shaped blow at the surface. They are known for being inquisitive and approach boats. They will occasionally spy hop, and breach. Just their head and part of their back is exposed when surfacing and they lift their tail flukes high before they dive. Gray whales are usually seen alone or in small family groups.


Gray whales are highly migratory and encounter many threats on their long journeys including entanglement in fishing debris, noise pollution and chemical pollution. They are still hunted by the native people of Chukotka.


Gray whales are mostly found in the shallow coastal waters of the North Pacific Ocean and are the most coastal of the large whales, usually ranging no more than 20 to 30km from the shore. Gray whales undertake one of the longest annual migrations of any mammal, with the eastern north Pacific population migrating up to 22,000km from their feeding grounds in the Chukchi sea, Beaufort sea and Bering sea to their breeding and calving grounds in the west coast of Baja California and Mexico.

Study whales and dolphins as an ORCA OceanWatcher

The ORCA OceanWatchers online training course, along with a bespoke app, will enable everyone to collect data about whales, dolphins and porpoises. And it can be collected from anywhere that you can see the sea - whether that’s from your local beach, on holiday at the coast, scanning the seas from a cruise ship, travelling via ferry, or from your own boat.

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