Gray Whale Migration
Spring: April, May, June

Gray Whale Migration Route
(Click on face of map)

The Journey North Begins
By April, Eschrichtius robustus is parading north. Strung out all along the Pacific Coast of North America from California to Alaska are the newly-pregnant females. They are followed by the males and juveniles of previous years. Last come the mothers with new calves. They are the last to leave the lagoons. Some will stay into May or even June, but most of the cow/calf pairs start the journey north during April.

Counting Whales During Migration
The whales swimming north are counted by a few scientists and many volunteer whale-watchers. One counting group is the American Cetacean Society. They count passing whales near Los Angeles (ACS/LA). Another partnership of groups called(Gray Whales Count started in 2005 at Coal Oil Point near Goleta, CA. Gray Whales Count is a joint research and education project of UCSB's Coal Oil Point Reserve, Goleta, CA; American Cetacean Society - Channel Islands, CA; and
Cascadia Research Collective in, Oympia, WA.

Another census, conducted yearly by NOAA biologist Wayne Perryman, counts mother/baby pairs that pass Point Piedras Blancas. The northbound cow/calf pairs typically migrate past about 5-6 weeks behind the rest of the northbound whales. The extra time in the Mexican lagoons is important for baby whales. They add blubber and grow bigger and stronger. This increases their survival chances for the 5,000- to 6,000-mile journey ahead. This is the time when the babies and mothers are doing serious spring training. By the time the whales leave the lagoons, a calf is about 19 feet long. It weighs around 3,000 pounds.

Whale Watching Spoken Here® is a volunteer whale watching group that counts whales near the Oregon Coast during the journey south AND the journey north. They count during peak gray whale migration times coinciding with winter and spring breaks. Log on to see the dates of their Whale Watch Weeks and the numbers of gray whales sighted.

Stopping Out: Resident Whales
Each year a few gray whales stop before reaching the arctic feeding grounds. If they come across an area with plenty of food, they might stay there instead. When gray whales find food in places like Washington State or British Columbia, they are more likely to return there in following years, becoming "resident whales" at least for awhile. Or, a sick whale might stop migrating and stay in one area, appearing to be a "resident whale."

Click for a closer look at this baby whale! Photo Keith Jones.

Epic Journeys
By mid-May, the spring migration is almost over. In Mexico, all whales have nearly emptied out of the lagoons. The first babies and moms have reached Alaska where they're eagerly awaited (see Whale Fest Kodiak), while others have just passed the census station at Point Piedras Blancas, CA. They are "bringing up the tail" of the northward swim, so whale watchers along the Pacific coast can still see a few whales. It's an epic journey—for some whales, their very first. For others, it's just another of many such journeys made during a long, long lifetime. Each year, we thrill at the news as our observers share their first sightings of the returning gray whales!

Spring Lessons

  • Spring Training
    How do whale mothers help their babies prepare for the long journey north?
  • How far away is that whale spout?
    Photo Mike & Winston

    Whale Watchers' Lingo: How Far Offshore?
    If a whale-watcher on shore calls 'BLOW, 300 degrees at 45 mil,' what does that mean? Mike and Winston give you a fun lesson on whale watcher's lingo —including a challenge to use what you learn.
  • Whale Watching With Mike & Winston
    Get a big, clean piece of paper, divide into 12 columns, and lable the columns as Mike tells you how to log whale sightings. Then learn the longo and take a photo quiz.
  • Cows and Calves and Ice, Oh My! Looking for Correlations
    What has biologist Wayne Perryman discovered about the relationship between sea ice and number of calves?
    Here's your chance to think like a scientist as you look at a bit of Wayne's research.
  • Migration Perils: Entanglement
    What are four dangers to migrating gray whales, and one that's a particular danger in the Pacific Northwest?
  • Gray Whale Enemy Number One
    See what Marine Biologist Caitlyn Toropova told Journey North about the connection between gray whales and killer whales.
  • Which Whale Species?
    What clues help observers on the shore, peering through binoculars, tell different whale species apart?
  • Issues That Affect Whales
    A world better for whales is a world better for ALL of us. If you'd like to find out about some of the issues facing whales, this page has some links. Use the information to choose an issue, find the facts, and educate others. More people caring about whales means more people caring about the planet we all share!
  • Whale Journey by Vivian French
    Whale Journey
    In her 50 years, Old Gray has traveled a distance equal to traveling to the moon and home again. What's in store for her baby, about to make his first migration? Whale Journey by Vivian French (1998, Zero to Ten Limited) is a fact-filled picture book and gripping tale about the life cycle of the gray whale. See this link to Journey North's Reading and Writing Connection for this beautiful story.

Be sure to see other timely lessons on the December, January, February page.