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Gray Whale (Eschrichtius robustus)

Gray Whale
Gray Whale (Photo: David Weller, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)

Gray whales are divided into two discrete populations, one on either side of the North Pacific Ocean. The eastern population migrates along the West Coast of North America between winter calving grounds along Baja California, Mexico, and summer feeding grounds in the Bering and Chukchi Seas between Alaska and Russia. The eastern population has made perhaps the most complete recovery of any large whale population depleted by commercial whaling. The annual migration of some gray whales back and forth between calving and breeding grounds can exceed 10,000 miles, making it the longest annual migration of any mammal. The western population occurs along the Asian coast, where it migrates between summer feeding grounds off Sakhalin Island, Russia (about 500 miles north of the Japanese island of Hokkaido), and winter calving grounds at an unknown location suspected to be in the South China Sea. In contrast to the eastern population it remains one of the most critically endangered populations of any large whale numbers perhaps by 100 animals.

Commercial whaling severely depleted both populations between the mid-1800s and early 1900s. As a result, gray whales were protected under a ban on commercial hunting adopted by the League of Nations in the mid-1930s. This ban, that also covered right whales, was the first international agreement to protect a whale species from commercial whaling operations. The ban on commercial gray whale catches has been carried forward since the late 1940s by the International Whaling Commission.

Range and Habitat:

Shallow coastal waters

Status under Law:

W. North Pacific stock - endangered (ESA)

E. North Pacific stock - delisted in 1994 (ESA)

Conservation issues:

Management of native subsistence harvests, coastal development in breeding lagoons, prey availability, collisions with ships, entanglement in fishing gear, whale watching, offshore oil and gas development

Physical characteristics:

At Birth At Maturity
Length 4.9 m
Up to 15 m
Weight 680 kg
(1,500 lb)
Up to 35,000 kg
(80,000 lb)


Known to exceed 40 years

Annual Report:

For more information, see the Gray Whale section from the 2002 Annual Report

Download a copy: PDF (190 KB)

Additional Links:

National Marine Fisheries Service Stock Assessment Reports

Alaska Department of Fish & Game - Gray Whale

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service - Gray Whale

Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary Gray Whale


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