Gray Whale (Eschrichtius robustus) | WWF

Did you know?

  • Gray whales were known by whalers as ‘devilfish’ because they defended themselves and their calves so fiercely. However, whale watchers in Baja California report them to be friendly and willing to approach boats.
  • It is the sole representative of the family Eschrichtiidae and the only whale to range in the comparatively shallow waters of the continental shelves.
  •  Gray whales, like some other baleen whales, are covered in whale lice and barnacles which appear to give them white patches on their gray mottled skin.
The gray (or grey) Whale (Eschrichtius robustus) is a whale that travels travels several thousand miles between feeding and breeding grounds every year.

Physical description

  • Length: between 12.2 and 15.2m (females are about 1m longer than males)
  • Weight: about 36 tonnes
  • Lifespan: 50–60 years


At one time there were 3 gray whale populations: a north Atlantic population, now extinct, probably the victims of over-hunting; a Korean or western north Pacific stock now very depleted, also possibly from over-hunting; and the eastern north Pacific population, the largest surviving population.
  • 1850s: hunted to the edge of extinction after the discovery of the calving lagoons.
  • 1900s: hunted to the edge of extinction with the introduction of floating factories.
  • 1937: the gray whale was given partial protection
  • 1947: the gray whale was given full protection by the International Whaling Commission (IWC).
  • Since 1947: the eastern north Pacific gray whale population has made a remarkable recovery and now numbers between 19,000 and 23,000, probably close to its original population size.

Gray whale Conservation

WWF and its conservation partners have been instrumental in strengthening protection for the north-west Pacific gray whale. WWF succeeded in curtailing seismic surveys that were shown to displace gray whales from their feeding ground and has been urging the Russian government to establish a gray whale sanctuary off Sakhalin Island.

It is classified as least concern by IUCN.

    © IFAW / R. Sobol
Critically endangered Gray whale (Eschrictius robustus).
© IFAW / R. Sobol