September 26, 2019. Life / Back from the Brink
RUSSELL A. MITTERMEIER, ANTHONY B. RYLANDS, WES SECHREST, PENNY F. LANGHAMMER, JOHN C. MITTERMEIER, MICHAEL J. PARR, WILLIAM R. KONSTANT, RODERIC B. MAST
Gray Whales grow to 15 meters in length and weigh up to 32 metric tons. They use long keratinous plates (baleen) to filter food from the sea. Rather than feeding on the pelagic fauna, however, they prefer bottom-dwelling crustaceans, and have short and narrow baleen plates that they use to scoop them up, along with other small prey, from sea-floor sediments. Natural predators of the Gray Whale are limited to large sharks (tigers and great whites) and orcas that target the younger and weaker animals.
These iconic marine mammals gather in the spring off the coast of Baja California, Mexico, where they have become an important attraction for Mexican nature tourism. After breeding in places such as Magdalena Bay and Laguna San Ignacio, they migrate north to summer feeding grounds in the Bering and Chukchi seas on an annual 19,000-kilometer migration. All along this route they hug the coast and are a popular attraction for whale watchers.
The recovery of the Gray Whale from the brink of extinction in the Eastern North Pacific is one of the most compelling stories of 20th-century conservation. Like most of the cetaceans, grays fell prey to overhunting by commercial whalers. In the “Bonanza Years” (1854–1865), it is estimated that two-thirds of the Eastern North Pacific population was exterminated. By the 1870’s, grays were so rare as to make the industry no longer viable. Yet they bounced back. In 1994, the Gray Whale became the first marine species to be removed from the U.S. Endangered Species List, and today there are an estimated 30,000 Eastern North Pacific Gray Whales in the wild, likely more than that existed when whalers first began to exploit them in the 1840’s.
Conservation Status: Least Concern
This is an excerpt from the CEMEX Nature Series Book “Back from the Brink” (2017)