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Gray Whale Adaptations: The Tail
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Click on drawing to see labeled enlargement

Built for Powerful Propulsion

  • The horizontal tail is two large flukes with a notch between them. An adult's tail flukes can measure over three meters (9 feet) across and can weigh up to 180 kg (400 pounds).
  • The tail is mostly made of strong connective tissues. It is powered by a massive muscle system. (The muscle system of a gray whale accounts for one-third of its total body weight.)
  • As whales adapted from land animals to life in the sea, bones in the lower spine loosened up to power the tail movement.
  • The tail?s leisurely up-and-down motion provides powerful forward propulsion. Some estimates say that this motion is the equivalent of a 500 horsepower engine mounted at the rear of the whale!

These gray whales are all showing their magnificent tails.

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