IKAN Guide to Whales

Gray Whale - Eschrichtius robustus

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The adult gray whale measures about 12-14 meters in length and weighs about 15-35 tons.

The gray whales belongs to the family Eschrichtidae and have baleen plates which are used to filter out crustaceans and fish from sediment found at the bottom of the ocean. Hence the gray whale is also known as the 'bottom feeder.' These animals are well known for the long migration routes they take annually. Their migratory route takes them the breadth of the Japanese Archipelago to their feeding and breeding areas, usually located in shallow coastal waters of the North Pacific and Arctic Oceans. The migratory route of the gray whale can cover as much as 20 000 kilometers. They may congregate in pods ranging from a few to about 18. Whaling inflicted a heavy toll on these animals. The North Atlantic population was wiped out while the Californian population dwindled to a few hundred by the early 20th century. Due to this close call a total ban on the hunting of the gray whale was implemented in 1946, though a small number of gray whales were still caught by Makah and Chukotko people for subsistence purposes. On the western side of the north Pacific, known as the Okhotsk-Korean population or 'western gray whale', it was thought that they were extinct, but recent evidence suggests a small population still exists, but may number as few as 100. Despite this recovery the ray whale is still plagued with various forms of human disturbances which include collision with boats, fishing gear entanglements, and pollution as well as habitat destruction around coastal areas. Recent oil & gas development at Northern Sakhalin Island, led by Shell & Sakhalin Energy, has deprived this critically endangered whale of its feeding ground.