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Gray Whales (Eschrichtius robustus) are a species of whale that lives in the Eastern (American) and Western (Asian) Pacific Ocean. In the past, populations of this whale lived in the North Atlantic as well. However, those became extinct in the 17th century.
These whales boast streamlined bodies, with narrow, tapered heads. They are dark gray in color and covered by gray-white patterns. These are scars left by parasites, which drop off in the cold feeding grounds. Though these whales lack a dorsal fin, they bear several dorsal ‘knuckles’. In terms of size, they reach a length of up to 52 ft (16 m), a weight of 36 tons (32,000 kg). Like sperm whales, they live to an age of 50-60 years.
The Eastern Pacific or California gray whale population numbers between 20,000 and 22,000 whales. These travel between the Bering and Chukchi Seas and Baja Mexico. In the fall, the California gray whale starts a 2-3 month, 5,000-7,000 miles (8,000-11,000 km) trip south along the west coast of North America.
The animals travel in small groups. When they reach the coastal waters of Baja California, they breed and give birth. Females bear a single calf, at intervals of 2 or more years. Courtship and mating behavior are complex, and frequently involve 3 or more whales of mixed sexes. After several weeks, the return trip starts.
Because of these whales’ predictable appearances, whale watching is very popular in southern California and Baja Mexico. The best locations to photograph these whales in Baja are Laguna San Ignacio, Magdalena Bay, and Scammon’s Lagoon. ‘Friendly’ whales are most commonly encountered at San Ignacio during the months of February and March.