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Gray Whale Markings and “Friends”

by Eric Austin Yee

Our flow of gray whales sighted by Dana Wharf Whale Watching guests has been consistent and outstanding again this season! The easy to spot gray whale is not just gray as its name says. Upon closer inspection, our guest will notice that gray whales are full of white patches and markings that make each gray whale a one of a kind. Gray whales are also home to other creatures that can be seen by sharp eyed whale watchers or those who zoom in on their gray whale photos. These markings and cluster of creatures that call the gray whale home make them stand out compared to other whales we see off our coast.

When a gray whale is born, they are a solid gray color and lack many markings.  After a few months of life, the young gray whale will develop its unique mottled pattern. Some of these markings can be very distinctive and sometimes earn the individual gray whale a name after numerous sightings. There have also been very recent sightings of white gray whales in Baja California, Mexico.

A round creature up to 2 inches across can be found on a gray whale in great clusters.  These creatures are a large barnacle called, Cryptolepas rhachianecti. This is the only barnacle species found on the gray whale and leave a round scar after falling off the gray whale.  Clusters of these barnacles will grow on the whale, so larger white patches on gray whales can be caused by these clusters dropping off.  It is possible for a large gray whale to possibly have hundreds of pounds of these barnacles growing on them.  Cryptolepas rhachianecti ususally attaches itself to gray whales in larval form when they reach the lagoons of Baja California, Mexico.  Clusters of  barnacles are sometimes removed by gray whales by rubbing along the bottom of the sea floor.

Often red patches can be found on the body of gray whales, these are usually cyamids or also known as whale lice.  These small, flattened tick like creatures live on gray whales in great numbers.  They will cling to the gray whale and feast on dead skin or the skin around the area barnacles have attached themselves too.  Four different species can be found living on the gray whale.