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Which of the Grays are Here to Play?

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Whale Watching | Mammals

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Kera

An update and expansion from the last blog.

Now that we’re into February that also means that we’re well into gray whale season. We’re seeing quite a few southbound whales, including cow-calf pairs still. If the pregnant females are going down there to have babies, who are all the other whales going down there? Read on to find out about the different groups of gray whales heading south and what we’re seeing right now!

It’s commonly discussed how the gray whales head south to the lagoons in Baja to give birth every winter. It’s a nice, safe, warm, environment to have a calf. But what about all of the other whales that make that migration? Why are they going down there?

One main reason is because the areas up north get really cold and freeze over. They won’t have access to food, and it’ll be hard to breathe with no opening from ice. The other reason is because the whales that aren’t pregnant will need to mate for the following year’s migration. The lagoons also offer a safe place to mate.

When gray whale season starts, the first groups of whales to come by are the pregnant females. They are on a mission! They’ve got to try to get to the warm waters of the lagoons before they give birth. Unfortunately, due to global climate change, their migration is taking longer, so we’re seeing a lot of cow-calf pairs on the way south (as discussed in my last blog). This also slows down the journey south because the baby is slower moving. They still continue down to be in a warm area while the baby gains weight by drinking the mother’s fatty milk.

The second group of whales that we see are the singles. This seems to the be main flux of whales we’re looking at now. They are the adult males and females that will probably be mating this season. They tend to do a lot of mingling during the day and more traveling at night. A lot of times these are the grays what we see breaching! You won’t probably see a pregnant female do any breaching. That’s one way we know we’re looking at some of the singles. They also tend to hang out in groups. We don’t call the groups “pods” because a pod typically means there is structure, almost like a family. Instead we refer to whales like this as “herds”. There aren’t strong connections between the groups and they will probably split from each other.

The last groups to head south are the juveniles. They like to spend as much time feeding up there as possible. They still might not have the migration down quite right. If they aren’t careful, they can end up having a hard time and being very hungry little guys! Sometimes they’ll even stop half way and turn around.

We’ve had some breachers out there the last few weeks, so it looks like they’re having fun showing off! Join us as we watch the gray whale males try and impress the ladies. It’s right in time for Valentine’s Day!

Which of the Grays are Here to Play?
If you look closely, you can see the tops of FOUR gray whales! They stuck very close together.  | Kera Mathes
Which of the Grays are Here to Play?
A gray whales breaches not too far from our boat.  | Kera Mathes

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