|This afternoon we got to our tented camp and after a tasty lunch we played some football (soccer) on the beach. Then we set out for the whole reason we came here. Aboard three skiffs, we saw many whales, lots of spouting, breaching and even some very obvious courtship activities in progress. This is the season when they calf and breed. From our initial experience, they seem very busy. We also saw a pair of whales, flukes rising up in unison, seemingly dancing upside down. When we got back to camp, we had a little happy hour and then delicious tamales and flan. By 8:30, everyone was in bed. Glorious.
Now for some information on what we are seeing:
Every year The Gray Whale makes its annual migration from the Chirikof Basin, north of Alaska, to Magdelena Bay, a round trip of some 12,400 miles. This is the longest migration by any mammal. Hugging the North American coastline, it swims from its winter breeding grounds in Baja California, Mexico, to its summer feeding grounds in the rich waters of the Bering Sea in the Arctic and back again. Here's the schedule:
April - November: Arctic feeding grounds October - February: migrates south December - April: Mexican breeding grounds February - July: migrates north.
In a gray whale's lifetime of 40 years or more, this is equivalent in distance to swimming to the moon and back again.
Whales do not sleep like we do. They rest on the surface of the sea or catnap for a few moments while they are swimming. Each side of the brain takes turns switching off while the other half stays alert and keeps the animal breathing (a voluntary action in whales). When whales open their eyes underwater, special greasy tears protect them from the stinging salt.
Gray whales grow to be at most 45-50 feet long, weighing about 36 tons with females being larger than males. Gray whales have 2-4 throat grooves that are each about 5 feet long each. These grooves allow their throat to expand when they take huge gulps of water, mud and food during filter feeding.
Grey whales sieve through the mud on the bottom of the ocean floor of the arctic. Their baleen filter out 1/2 inch long shrimp-like crustaceans, plankton, and mollusks (including squid and fish) from the muck. They usually feed on their right side, sucking up mouthfuls of mud along with tasty morsels. Their baleen filters out food, and the whale spits out the mud. During migration and while in the warm breeding waters (about 3-5 months), gray whales eat very little. They live off of a 10-12 inch layer of blubber they have built up while feeding in the artic. The tongue of the gray whale is used to dislodge the food from their baleen, and it weighs about 1-1.5 tons.
Gray whales are very agile swimmers. Gray whales can dive for up to 30 minutes and go 500 feet deep. This compares to our guide Migel who can dive for 2 minutes and go 70 feet deep.