The Gray Whale Annual Cycle
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Arriving, Courting, Mating, and Giving Birth
In January, many gray whales arrive in the warm lagoons of Mexico. Mothers give birth to their 2,000 pound babies, called calves. Other whales are courting and mating along the migration route and in the lagoons.

Babies in the Lagoons!
The number of whales peaks in the lagoons in February. More and more babies are born in the warm nursery waters. Courting and mating continue, and more whales complete their southward migration. More tourists visit too, hoping to get close to the friendly babies and moms.

Spring Training for Babies, Migration North for Some Adults
In March, mother and baby pairs dominate the lagoons. Many males and newly pregnant females start their journey north. New moms are "spring training" the babies to get them ready for their first migration in 4 to 6 weeks. Mothers swim with babies near the mouth of the lagoon, where the currents are stronger. Exercise helps babies build strength and endurance.

Babies Build Blubber; Hungry Adults Head North

By April, most adults and older juveniles are heading north. Moms and babies stay behind. The first northbound whales may already have reached Alaska. It's spring and the arctic sea ice is melting. Open seas mean the arctic food supplies are available again, and the whales are hungry! Back in the lagoons, babies play together. They swim close to the tourist boats and thrill the people! The babies build strength through exercise and blubber from mother's rich milk. With a long migration and colder waters ahead, the babies need thick blubber for energy and insulation.

Moms and Babies Head North for Summer Feasting

It's May, and most of the mothers have started the long journey north with their babies. They travel close to the coast where waters are shallower. They stop often to nurse and rest. Meanwhile, most hungry older whales are completing their long migration north to their summer feeding grounds in the cold waters off Alaska and Siberia. Over the next five months they will gain back an estimated 16 to 30 percent of their total body weight. That much weight was lost during the migration south and the winter in Mexico, where their food is scarce.

Feasting in the North
In June the hungry whales are well into the northern waters where they find plenty of food. They feast and start to gain back weight they lost during migration and breeding/calving season. A few whales stop out along the Oregon and Washington Coast and stay all winter. But most whales and keep going to the cold, food-filled waters off Alaska and Siberia. Many moms and babies complete their journey north in June. This whale has popped up to spyhop and have a look around.

Feeding and Fattening in Food-rich Seas

In July the arctic waters are teeming with food for the hungry whales. Feeding and fattening is a whale's main goal. With ice melting further north, whales can now reach the northern limits of their feeding grounds in the Bering and Chuckchi Seas. Baby whales will nurse for six to eight months, but moms teach them to scoop up and eat tiny amphipods off the ocean floor.

Building Blubber to Last for Months

It's August. Migration and mating are just weeks away, and whales keep feasting in order to be ready. They must gain blubber enough to sustain them during the months ahead. A 30-ton whale will expend so much energy on the migration to the Mexican lagoons that it may lose up to eight tons of its blubber. Little or no whale food is available in the breeding grounds, so this is their time to eat!

Feeding in the Arctic

From about June through September on the arctic feeding grounds, a gray whale can eat up to 2,400 pounds of food in one day! This baby's mouth is open so you can see the baleen. It takes the place of teeth in this whale species. Baleen helps the whale eat. Gray whales are unique feeders because they dive to the bottom, suck in a mouthful of mud and water, and then use their giant tongue to push the muddy water out of their mouth. The amphipods and other yummy animals are left behind on the baleen. Then the whale swallows the food.

Swimming and Feasting in the Arctic

Scientists who fly over the arctic feeding areas may see gray whales from the airplane, as in this photo. The whales feast on the arctic feeding grounds from about June through September or October. They must eat to build thick blubber for their southward migration. They begin their journey south to their winter home in early October when the days grow shorter and northern waters begin to freeze.

Making The Journey South

In November the southward migration is underway for most gray whales. As ice forms on their feeding waters, they will swim 24 hours a day to their winter home in the warm lagoons of Mexico's Baja Peninsula. The journey is more than 5,000 miles. The whales may travel so close to the coast that people can see them. Whale watchers look for whale spouts, or blows. These spouts are made by a whale's exhale. Spouts are clear signals that whales are passing!

Courting, Mating and Migrating

In December, whales may be seen courting and mating. Many whales are on the migration route. Some may be arriving in the lagoons of Mexico. Pregnant females are in a hurry to get to Mexico, so they arrive first. Other whales might take their time getting there. The breeding and birthing season is underway!

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