By Alana Phillips
Can you imagine swimming upwards of 8,000 km just for a meal? Every year, thousands of grey whales do just that during their annual migration northward from their breeding lagoons in Mexico to their feeding grounds in Alaska, one of the longest migrations of any mammal.
Grey whales typically start passing through B.C. waters in early spring. Most travel through our waters on their way to prime foraging in the Bering Sea, although a small population of animals remains in B.C. for the summer. Grey whales feed on tiny organisms in the bottom sediment, so it is very common to see them in shallow waters, close to shore. They feed by gulping large mouthfuls of mud and straining their food out through their baleen plates. From the surface, it’s common to see the whales thrashing around and for their surfacing patterns to be somewhat erratic, almost as if they are stranded.
Grey whales are recognizable by their mottled grey colour, the presence of barnacles all over their bodies, and the lack of dorsal fin. Adults are range up to about 14 m in length. Apart from their feeding behaviours, they do not typically have other overt behaviours like breaching or showing their fins or tail flukes.
The grey whale is listed under Canada’s Species at Risk Act as “Special Concern”, because even though their population numbers have rebounded from near-extinction due to whaling, they are still threatened by factors such as entanglement, toxins they pick up from contaminated sediments, and degradation of their breeding lagoons in Mexico.
We’ve just started receiving reports of grey whales in B.C. waters in the last week or so. Your sightings of grey whales are important as they give us more information that we can use to help protect these inspiring creatures. If you see a grey whale, or any other species of whale, dolphin or porpoise, let us know!