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What Ails the Whales

Once growing, gray whale population is now declining



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Scientific Name Eschrichtius robustus

Length Adult males: 45–46 feet; adult females: 46–48 feet

Weight 30–40 tons

Physical Description A streamlined body with a narrow, tapered head. No dorsal fin, but about two-thirds of the way back on its body there is a prominent dorsal hump followed by a series of six to 12 knuckles along the dorsal ridge that extend to the tail lobes or "flukes." Its flippers are paddle-shaped and pointed at the tips. Its fluke is about 10–12 feet across, pointed at the tips and deeply notched in the center.

Natural History Migrating gray whales have predictable breathing patterns, blowing three to five times in 15- to 30-second intervals before submerging for three to five minutes. A gray whale can stay submerged up to 15 minutes and travel at three to six miles per hour.


Whales can be seen off the Sonoma and Marin coasts almost year-round, but sightings peak from December to May. Best places to spot them from land include Bodega Head, Point Reyes Lighthouse, Salt Point State Park, Stillwater Cove Regional Park and the Jenner Bluffs.

Whale watching boat trips also launch from Bodega Charters in Bodega Bay ($50 per person).

Boaters should not:

• Approach within 300 feet (length of a football field) of any whale

• Cut across a whale's path

• Make sudden speed or directional changes

• Get between a whale cow and her calf; if separated from its mother, a calf may be doomed to starvation.

(Courtesy National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)

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