Scientific name

Eschrichtius robustus

Where does it get its name?

The meaning of the gray whale scientific name, Eschrichtius robustus, comes from Daniel Frederik Eschricht, a Danish professor who worked with these animals (Eschrichtius) and the latin word for “strong” (robustus). 

Whale SENSE Region Found:


Protection status

Endangered Species act

  • Eastern Pacific Stock
    • Not at Risk
  • Western Pacific Stock
    • Endangered

Protected throughout its range

Where to watch:

During the springtime gray whales are sometimes spotted passing by the Kenai Peninsula. Tours run out of Seward, AK to see gray whales starting as early as March. There are also occasional sightings in Prince William Sound throughout the summer months. They are rarely seen in Southeast Alaska, except for areas along the outer coast, like Sitka, during the summer months.

What to watch for:

Blow: Gray whale blows are usually low and puffy or heart-shaped

Diving: Arches back on shallow dives, shows fluke when going on a deep dive

Source: International Whaling Commission

Body: They are “mottled” gray with white patches, which mostly consist of areas where barnacles and lice have attached themselves to the whales, short (5-25 cm), cream-yellow baleen

Size: Length: 42 to 49 feet, Weight: 45 tons


Gray whales mostly eat amphipods (related to shrimp). These animals are mostly found in sediment on the ocean floor. Gray whales suck up mouthfuls of sediment and strain out the contents through their baleen, leaving only the tiny crustaceans. Muddy patches of water are often seen in places where gray whales are feeding. They will also eat small fish and zooplankton.

Mating and Calving

Gray whales go to the warm waters near Mexico to mate and to have calves. After a twelve month pregnancy, a female gray whale will give birth to a calf typically 14-16 feet (4-5 m) in length and about 2,000 pounds (907 kg). Calves will then journey back to their northern feeding grounds with their mothers and be weaned after about eight months. Gray whales will usually give birth every two to three years.

Photo: Tim Stenton

Did you know?

  • Whalers nicknamed gray whales “devil fish” because of their aggressive reactions when harpooned.
  • Gray whales once existed in the Atlantic Ocean. It is likely that commercial whaling played a role in reducing their population to extinction.
  • Once listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act, the eastern population successfully recovered and was delisted in 1994. However, the western population is currently listed as endangered in the ESA, with around 200-300 individuals remaining today. 
  • The western gray whale holds the record for longest known mammal migration! In 2011-2012 a female gray whale was recorded migrating a total of 13,988 miles (22,511 kilometers. While this one was certainly spectacular, gray whales are generally considered to make one of the longest annual migrations of any mammal, traveling an average of 10,000 miles round-trip from feeding grounds in northern latitudes in the summer to breeding grounds near Mexico in the winter.
  • Gray whales carry over 400 pounds of barnacles and whale lice.
  • They are the only baleen whale in which the upper jaw is longer than the lower jaw.

Threats to gray whales

Learn more about gray whales