Washington's Coast
Washington State Department of Ecology

BEACHES
PLANTS
 
ANIMALS
razor clam
gray whale
humpback whale
butterfly
plover
crab
Gray Whale spyhopping on the North Pacific horizon

 
Coastal cruisers
Whale watching peaks during March, April and May as Gray Whales cruise along Washington's coast during migration. Gray Whales make the longest journey of any mammal, traveling 10,000 to 14,000 miles round trip every year -- from feeding grounds to breeding lagoons.
Summer range
North Pacific feeding grounds Winter range
Baja California breeding waters
 
Gray Whale migration: a journey of ten to fourteen thousand miles
Gray Whale blow
Gray Whale blow
When a Gray Whale surfaces, it exhales a plume of seawater, mucus, and oils up to 15 feet high. These blows are easiest to spot on a calm sea horizon.

A mud plume following a feeding Gray Whale
Gray Whale feeding
The Gray Whale is a bottom feeder, eating worms, crustaceans, and other organisms, which it stirs up with its snout. Feeding whales often leave plumes of mud in their wake.


Watching whales
Because Gray Whales migrate close to the coast, they can be seen from shore. Good places to watch whales include: Westport, observation tower; Olympic National Park, Cape Alava, Cape Flattery; and the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center, Fort Canby State Park.
 

Gray Whale anatomy
Sea lice, barnacles, and knuckles
  • Sea lice and barnacles
    Scattered patches of barnacles and orange whale lice grow on the Gray Whale's dark grey skin.
  • Humps and knuckles
    Rather than a dorsal fin, Gray Whales have a low hump topped with 6 to 12 knuckles or bumps.
  • Notched flukes
    Flukes or flat tail parts are 10 to 12 feet across and notched.
  • Spyhoppers
    The Gray Whale often spyhops -- raises its head out of the water.
  • Habitat
    The primary habitat of the Gray Whale in Washington is the outer coast open waters, including Grays Harbor and Willapa Bay. Many are seen within a mile from shore.
  • Almost extinct
    Because Gray Whales are slow swimmers, they were easy targets for whalers. By 1890, Gray Whales were almost extinct.
Images courtesy of: The American Cetacean Society; The Marine Mammal Laboratory, NOAA

Marine Mammals, Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary, NOAA Common marine mammals off Washington's coast. What to do if you see a stranded marine mammal.

Gray Whale Fact Sheet, The American Cetacean Society. Gray Whale description, distribution, feeding, and behavior.

NOAA Fisheries Office of Protective Resources Gray Whale information.

Gray Whale, Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Wildlife Notebook Life history facts about gray whales.


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