Gray whales

Gray Whales in Clayoquot Sound

Gray whales undertake one of the longest migrations of any animal. During the winter they are found in calving and breeding grounds off Baja California and mainland Mexico. During the summer they feed far to the north, in the Bering, Chukchi and western Beaufort Seas. They travel a distance of 10,000-14,000 miles (16,000-22,530 km) round trip.

Some gray whales do not make the full migration, but find feeding areas along the way, like Clayoquot Sound, and stay for at least part of the summer season. Researchers and whale watchers have located these "resident" groups of whales, and some individual whales have become quite well known in specific regions over the years. Through photo-identification methods, researchers have learned that individual whales visit different west coast feeding areas either during the same year or in different years. This finding has led to many questions:

Why do these animals not make the whole migration?
How do they utilize this coastal habitat?
How does resident whale distribution change within a year, and from year to year?
How many residents are there?
What is special about the areas where they are found?



Quick Facts About Gray Whales
Gray whale
  • Adults are 12.0-13.5m long, up to 14.1m and 35 tonnes
  • calves at birth 4.9m, 1-1.5 tonnes
  • mottled gray body
  • V-shaped, narrow head with barnacles and "whale lice"
  • no dorsal fin
  • bumps/ridges along tail stock
  • current population estimate 19,000-23,000 in eastern North Pacific


Every whale has unique markings on each side of its body. We photograph both sides whenever possible and the underside of the flukes.

Through photo-identification methods, researchers have learned that individual summer resident gray whales visit different west coast feeding areas either during the same year or in different years. Photos are compiled into catalogues which make it easy to compare pictures of whales.

Download the new Clayoquot Sound Gray Whale Photo ID Catalog (2006-2007-2008) by clicking here - it's a PDF, 8.5MB in size.

Click to download Clayoquot Sound Gray Whale Catalog 2006-2009, 8.5MB PDF


Left side ID photo
Left side ID photo

Fluke ID photo
Fluke ID photo

Whale lice and barnacles are found
on the skin of gray whales
Gray whale's blow
The gray whale's blow
A young gray whale checks us out
Gray whale looks up
Gray whale feeding
Looking down on a feeding gray whale. Grays bite into the soft, muddy sediment in shallow bays.
They strain the sediment through the baleen plates in their mouths to trap tiny food items.
Whale food - these are amphipods (small, shrimp-like animals) and clams from sediments.
Crab larvae
And this is crab larvae that floats in the water column. Grays alter their diet and feeding habits depending on the food that's available throughout the summer. To capture crab larvae, they simply swim along with their mouths open.

Gray whales can be very curious about you too and may approach your vessel.

If one does, stop, leave your motor idling, watch quietly, and wait for the whale to move 100m away before you resume travel.

All photos credited to Dr. J. Darling, Pacific Wildlife Foundation



Sponsored by
A West Coast Whale Project of

Clayoquot Biosphere Trust

Ocean Outfitters

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