Coastal Grey Whales
Gray whales are often covered with parasites and other organisms that make their snouts and backs look like a crusty ocean rock.
The whale uses its snout to forage by dislodging tiny creatures from the seafloor. It then filters these morsels with its baleen—a comblike strainer of plates in the upper jaw. A piece of gray whale baleen, also called whalebone, is about 18 inches (46 centimeters) long and has a consistency much like a fingernail. Whalebone was once used to make ladies' corsets and umbrella ribs.
The gray whale is one of the animal kingdom's great migrators. Traveling in groups called pods, some of these giants swim 12,430 miles (20,000 kilometers) round-trip from their summer home in Alaskan waters to the warmer waters off the Mexican coast. The whale’s winter and breed in the shallow southern waters and balmier climate.
Like all whales, gray whales surface to breathe, so migrating groups are often spotted from North America's west coast. These whales were once the target of extensive hunting, and by early in the 20th century they were in serious danger of extinction.
Today gray whales are protected by international law, and their numbers have grown. In 1994, the gray whale was removed from the United States endangered species list.
Blue whales are the largest animals ever known to have lived on Earth. These magnificent marine mammals rule the oceans at up to 100 feet (30 meters) long and upwards of 200 tons (181 metric tons).Their tongues alone can weigh as much as an elephant. Their hearts, as much as an automobile.
Blue whales reach these mind-boggling dimensions on a diet composed nearly exclusively of tiny shrimp like animals called krill. During certain times of the year, a single adult blue whale consumes about 4 tons (3.6 metric tons) of krill a day.
Blue whales are baleen whales, which means they have fringed plates of fingernail-like material, called baleen, attached to their upper jaws. The giant animals feed by first gulping an enormous mouthful of water, expanding the pleated skin on their throat and belly to take it in. Then the whale's massive tongue forces the water out through the thin, overlapping baleen plates. Thousands of krill are left behind—and then swallowed.
Blue whales look true blue underwater, but on the surface their coloring is more a mottled blue-gray. Their underbellies take on a yellowish hue from the millions of microorganisms that take up residence in their skin. The blue whale has a broad, flat head and a long, tapered body that ends in wide, triangular flukes.
Blue whales live in all the world's oceans occasionally swimming in small groups but usually alone or in pairs. They often spend summers feeding in polar waters and undertake lengthy migrations towards the Equator as winter arrives.
These graceful swimmers cruise the ocean at more than five miles an hour (eight kilometers an hour), but accelerate to more than 20 miles an hour (32 kilometers an hour) when they are agitated. Blue whales are among the loudest animals on the planet. They emit a series of pulses, groans, and moans, and it’s thought that, in good conditions, blue whales can hear each other up to 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) away. Scientists think they use these vocalizations not only to communicate, but, along with their excellent hearing, to sonar-navigate the lightless ocean depths.