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Gray Whale: Eschrichtiidae - Physical Characteristics

whales baleen plates feet

Gray whales are very large animals that weigh 30 to 40 tons (27,200 to 36,300 kilograms) and are 45 to 50 feet (13.8 to 15 meters) in length. Females are larger than males. These whales have a streamlined body with a narrow head. The upper jaw overlaps with the lower jaw, and they have two to four throat grooves. Each groove is about 5 feet (1.4 meters) long and allows the throat to expand when the whale takes in water for filter feeding.

Gray whales are baleen (buh-LEEN or BAY-leen) whales. They do not have teeth. They filter feed using 130 to 180 overlapping plates called baleen plates that hang from the upper jaw. These plates are made of a material called keratin (KARE-ah-tin). This fingernail-like material frays out into thin hairs at the end of each strand to make a strainer. Each baleen plate is white and about 2 to 10 inches (5 to 25 centimeters) in length.

Gray whales have a 10-inch (25-centimeter) layer of blubber, or fat, to keep them warm in freezing cold water. Their skin is dark with gray patches and white splotches. Their skin also shows many scars and patches from white barnacles and orange whale lice. Often many more of these patches are found on the left side of the whale than on the right because of the way the whale scrapes along the ocean floor while feeding.

Although the gray whale does not have a dorsal (back) fin, it does have a large dorsal hump about two-thirds of the way back on its body. Behind the hump is a row of six to twelve knuckles that extend to its fluke, otherwise known as its tail. The fluke is 10 to 12 feet (3.7 meters) across with a deeply notched center and pointed tips. The flippers are shaped like paddles and are also pointed at the tips.

Gray Whale: Eschrichtiidae - Diet [next]

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