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Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, North American Mammals

  Cetacea · Eschrichtiidae · Eschrichtius robustus

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Eschrichtius robustus

Gray Whale

Order: Cetacea
Family: Eschrichtiidae

Image of Eschrichtius robustus
Eschrichtius robustus - upper insets show spray pattern, spy hopping, and whale louse and barnacle; lower inset, bottom feeding
Click to enlarge this image. (47 kb)

Conservation Status: Least Concern.

Gray whales are bottom feeders. They roll to one side and lower the lip to scour and siphon the bottom for tiny crustaceans, especially amphipods known as "sand fleas." They have small, thick, widely-placed baleen plates for screening food from the water. Now found only in the North Pacific, records and bony remains suggest they once lived in waters off the eastern seaboard of the United States and across the Atlantic near England, Sweden, and the Netherlands. Known as long distance travelers, they migrate north along the West Coast for the summer, and south again for the winter, where they calve in the shallows off Baja California. In 1994 the gray whale was removed from the endangered species list. Estimated population size in 1988 was about 21,000 individuals, and growing. Killer whales are the only animals known to attack them.

Also known as:

California Gray Whale, Korean Gray Whale


Range: 11.1-14.3 m males; 11.7-15 m females


Range: 15,700-33,800 kg


Lilljeborg 1861.  Forh. Skand. Naturf. Ottende Mode, Kopenhagen, 1860, 8:602 [1861].


Mammal Species of the World (opens in a new window).

Distribution of Eschrichtius robustus

Image of Eschrichtius robustus
Click to enlarge this image. (71kb)

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