Thursday, April 16, 2009
Every year the gray whale makes a migration that is longer than pretty much any other animal in the world. They start from way up in the northern waters of Alaska and the Bering Sea, and in October head south on a 6,000+ mile trip to the lagoons in Mexico. After spending a couple of months down there, they then head 6,000+ miles back up the coast, passing by us, just as if they were traveling back and forth on the 405 freeway. Who would have thought that whales would have to commute???
Why would any animal make that kind of trip? It seems like a lot of work to not even bring home a pay check! But I guess in their own way, they are getting something similar. One of the main reasons the gray whales even make this trip to begin with is to mate and calve (have young). The lagoons in Mexico are a nice, warm, secluded environment that allows a safe place for calves to get strong and bulk up before having to make their migration back up north to the chilly, Alaskan waters. Because these animals are mammals and are warm-blooded, it’s important that they all have some kind of insulation to make sure they stay warm.
Whales have a layer of blubber all over their body which is like fat. It’s very important that a mother whale feeds her baby milk with a very high fat concentration. Human milk contains about 2% fat. When a whale feeds their baby milk, it’s around 50-55% fat! It takes A LOT of energy to produce that kind of milk. The thickness is similar to yogurt! When a gray whale is born, they weigh about 1,500 lbs. and are about 16ft. The mother’s milk helps them gain that layer of blubber quickly and they can gain up to 70 lbs. a day! And what makes this all even more amazing is that during the migration, the adult whales don’t typically feed! That means that the pregnant whales are traveling all the way to Mexico, having a baby, feeding the baby milk, and going all the way back up without eating and living off the energy from their blubber. The same goes for all of the females that are mating that year and the males as well.
Even though these whales have a limited supply of energy, they still show us a lot of fun and exciting behaviors as they pass by the waters here between January-April (these are the typical months they are here). Let me tell you, it’s an exhilarating, and very humbling experience to see them in their natural environment! I’ve seen some pretty amazing stuff! All the way from gray whales playing with dolphins, to pods of gray whales fluking in unison, to jumping completely out of the water! They’ll even come right up to the boat to take a look at you. It’s a new experience every time I get the chance to look at them. Sometimes the mothers can be a little more protective of the calves and they’ll hug the shore. Other times they won’t be shy and will come a little closer to the boat. Either way, it’s exciting to know that I’m looking at a baby whale on its very first migration north. It’s almost like watching a baby’s first step!
Click here if you would like more information about our whale watching trips, including how to book.
Have Something to Say? Leave a Comment!
All blogs and comments represent the views of the individual authors and not necessarily those of the Aquarium.