Gray whales were once nearly hunted to extinction – but that nonsense has stopped and they are now back to a healthy population of around 22,000, probably almost as many as before we discovered they were giant bags of lamp oil. Grays are born in Mexican lagoons and are 15-16 feet at birth, live to be 50 or more and grow to 40-45 feet. Adults weigh about 30 tons (400x one of us) and reach sexual maturity at 5 to 11 years of age. Migrating north by staying near the shore and in shallow waters, they summer in the Bering and Chukchi seas off Alaska and Siberia. Here they feed on amphipods as they fatten for the two or three month fall trip south, the longest migration of any mammal. On the spring trip back north again, they live mostly on stored fat and rarely eat.
A rare few have learned to make a temporary right turn into our Salish Sea, and the same whales have been seen each year for several decades now along the shores of Whidbey, Camano Islands and near Everett during March through May. By late May and early June they leave and continue north. They’re probably around Whidbey now, returning to the same shorelines where they’ve dig holes by power-blasting them with water. Look for their double spout, whale bigger than a school bus, sucking in muddy sand and then blowing it back out past their baleen to screen back shrimp and other small creatures. Might be worth a sunny weekend trip to look for them, don’t you think?
Larry paints and blogs about wild places at larryeifert.com. His work can be seen in many national parks across America and most recently several nearshore paintings of the Admiralty Inlet Natural Area Preserve near Coupeville.