Creature Feature – Get to Know the Grey Whale

The grey whales of Baja are justifiably known as the friendliest whales around! But before heading out in search of baby whale cuddles, let’s take a moment to get to know them! Here are some fun facts about the grey whales!

Pong Pong Whales

While they’re not fancy singers like their cousins, the humpback whale, grey whales have an amazing vocal repertoire, including my absolute favourite, the pong pong! These rhythmic knocking sounds are like conga drums and are most frequently made by grey whales in the nursery lagoons in Baja. Aside from this knocking, they also produce other interesting sound types, such as rumbles, growls, chirps, croaks, belches, and bubble blasts! The meaning behind these sounds is still unknown – but wouldn’t it be cool to eavesdrop on them?

Baby grey whales in Mag Bay, with Dive Ninjas on expedition

They’re Like, Grey

Yes, grey whales are, in fact, grey! Very aptly named! But their slate grey skin is usually mottled – with white and sometimes orange patches… courtesy of their personal whale lice colony! Lice are about as large as a thumbnail and hop from mother to baby soon after birth.

Grey whales also accumulate barnacles, especially along their head, flippers, and tails, forming round white clusters. Other white or grey spots on their body are the result of scrapes and scarring – giving them their unique mottled look.

Longest Migrators

Grey whales undertake long migrations from their feeding grounds, usually up north in the Arctic, to their nursery grounds in the lagoons in Baja. There are, however, records of grey whales undertaking even longer migrations. In 2015, a female whale named Varvara swam from Okhotsk and the Bering Seas in Russia, to the Pacific coast of North America, and all the way down to Baja Mexico, where she presumably joined the annual get-together. After concluding her spring break antics, she then swam back to Russia. This record-breaking journey is the longest known migration undertaken by a mammal – 22,500 kilometres across the Pacific Ocean, over 172 days!

Bottom Feeders

Grey whales are baleen whales, meaning they are filter feeders, and don’t have teeth. But unlike other baleen whales that feed midwater, grey whales are decidedly more down to earth. They feed right on the seafloor, sucking up little critters such as amphipods, crab larvae, and crustaceans, like a giant grey vacuum cleaner! They’ll dive right to the bottom, turn on their side, and then take a big mouthful of crittery muck! Their baleen is usually more worn down on the right side, so it looks like most greys are right-handed!

Some whales prefer the shallow water buffet, snacking in waters only 7 feet deep! To keep from being beached, they time their feeding excursions with the tide.

Baja Friendlies

Grey whales were once known as Devil Fish by the local fishermen in Baja, due to their fearsome reputation, defending their calves when threatened by whalers. However, after the end of commercial whaling in the 1970s, this relationship fundamentally changed, and now they are considered the friendliest whales in the world! Grey whales in the lagoons of Baja will actively seek human contact, even pushing their calves up to boats to be petted and cooed over by awestruck humans – and researchers still don’t know the motivation or why this behaviour is specific to their nursery grounds in Baja. However, it makes for a truly magical encounter with our marine mammal cousins.

grey whale watching mexico
Juvenile grey whale surfaces while whale watching in Bahia Magdalena , Baja California Sur, Mexico

The Lost Population

Nowadays, grey whales can only be found in the Pacific, but there was a historical population in the Atlantic as well – with their home patch on the coast of North America, Europe, and Iceland. Unfortunately, whalers and their harpoons completely wiped out the population in the early 1700s – not our finest moment. 

Here’s the twist – in 2005, a proposal for rewilding was put forward – two conservation biologists suggested airlifting 50 grey whales from the Pacific to the Atlantic Ocean! Bonkers, or pure genius? The jury is still out. No action has been taken yet, but it will be interesting to see what the future holds!

All ready to get up close to some super friendly grey whales? Join Dive Ninjas on one of our grey whale expeditions!

Grey whale watching in Mag Bay with Dive Ninjas

Ninja Family Guest Writer:

Sze Wei

Lover of all marine animals big and small – and ok, yes, I like diving a lot!  When not underwater, I can be found in London with my goldfish.
Follow Sze Wei on Instagram

Grey whale watching in Mag Bay with Dive Ninjas