Gray Whales
Michael Ellis

Years ago what animal did the California state legislature vote as our official state marine mammal? The sea otter? Good guess and very cute but wrong. Surely it must be the California sea lion, nope. Then the harbor seal? No. How about the elephant seal? Sorry wrong again. Some kind of dolphin or porpoise? nope. Then it is a whale. Right but which one? The answer is, ta da, the gray whale.

And how many times do you think the gray whale actually stop in the great state of California? Well it doesn’t, it just passes by twice a year. During the southward migration heading to Baja and again in the spring heading back toward Alaska but we call it our very own marine mammal. I think it is a good choice though. Every thing a gray whale does it does in shallow water. It feeds in water less than 300′ deep in the Bering Sea and Chukchi sea, it breeds in the shallow water lagoons of Baja and it migrates in water less than 600′. Therefore it hugs the coast enabling many people in the most populous state in the union to catch glimpses of it as it swims by. In fact the gray whale is seen by more people than any other free-living species of cetacean.

Right now is a good time to head to coast or hop in a whale watching boat, there’s plenty of whales steaming south. But that wasn’t always the case, these whales were nearly hunted to extinction. At one time there may have been only two thousand left in the whole world. Finally hunting was banned on gray whales in 1947. And later they were listed as by the Feds as an endangered species, giving them further protection in US waters. Given this hunting ban by the whaling nations and Mexico’s protection of the sensitive breeding grounds. Gray whales have rebounded from the brink of extinction with gusto. There is now an estimated 20,000 gray whales, which could very well be the original population level. And they have been downgraded by the US Fish and Wildlife Service from an endangered to a merely threatened species. International cooperation worked and the gray whale is a 40 ton magnificent reason for keeping good environmental laws, like the Endangered Species Act, intact and strong.

This is Michael Ellis with a Perspective.

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December 1, 2010