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Gray Whale - Eschrichtius robustus
Photo by NOAA

The most coastal of the large whales, the 42-foot long gray whale is the only large whale that spends most of its life in waters over our Continental Shelf. The eastern north Pacific, or "California" stock is noted for its long annual migration from Arctic feeding grounds to Mexican breeding grounds, an approximately 12,000 mile round trip. Because of its nearshore migration and its recent population comeback (the California gray whale is the only whale to be removed from the Endangered Species List), it is one of the most "watched" whales. Recognized by their mottled gray color and lack of a dorsal fin, these whales can be seen spy-hopping, and even breaching while they migrate up and down the coast.

Gray Whale
(Eschrichtius robustus)

Bering, Chuckchi and Beaufort seas during the summer, and off the coast of Baja California and mainland Mexico in winter and spring

Primarily shallow coastal waters

Crustaceans (primarily amphipods), squid, benthic mollusks, and worms


The status of this species is representative of the populations within the waters of this Sanctuary only, not global populations.

Quick Fact
The gray whale is the only baleen whale that feeds on the sea floor where it targets bottom dwelling crustaceans, mollusks, and worms. They gouge pits in the sea floor, raising plumes of mud as they "harvest" the benthic organisms buried in it.

Learn More
- The National Marine Mammal Laboratory
- Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture
- University of Michigan Museum of Zoology