What is one of the Gray Whale's favorite foods? Amphipods! The benthic team started to see them in their Van Veen grabs and, sure enough, Gray Whales were spotted soon after. Gray Whales have baleen that they use to filter their food. They push water out through the baleen plates and keep the food in. This species of whale is particularly interesting because they find shallow seas (like the Bering and the Chukchi!) to dive down and scoop mud off the bottom, which is where the amphipods are found. When they are feeding, you can see the mud being stirred up in the water. We saw them doing this right here in the Chukchi!

An amphipod found in a Van Veen grab.
An amphipod found in a Van Veen grab.
The back of a Gray Whale with no dorsal fin. (Courtesy of Lindsey Leigh Graham)
The back of a Gray Whale with no dorsal fin. (Courtesy of Lindsey Leigh Graham)

Gray Whales are migratory and spend their winter down near Baja, Mexico and their summer up in the Chukchi Sea. They are named for their gray coloration. Males can be around 46 feet long with females being slightly larger. Most whales can be identified by their dorsal fin, but the Gray Whale does not have one, which makes it even more distinctive.

The characteristics of the Gray Whale and how to spot them. (Guide to Marine Mammals of Alaska)
The characteristics of the Gray Whale and how to spot them. (Guide to Marine Mammals of Alaska)

In 2019, there has been an unusual mortality event for Gray Whales in Alaska. This is defined in the Marine Mammal Protection Act "as a stranding event that is unexpected, involves a significant die-off of any marine mammal population, and demands immediate response." As of May 31st, 2019, twenty-two Gray Whales were found dead on Alaska shores and brings the Pacific coast death toll to 96. Scientist theorize that this event was caused by a change in their food source. The amphipod populations that they enjoy eating are dependent on sea ice and ocean conditions. With climate change resulting in loss of sea ice and changing physical properties of the ocean, this preferred food source may be at risk.

Thank you again to Lindsay Leigh Graham for sharing her amazing photos!

Gray Whale fluke. (Courtesy of Lindsey Leigh Graham)
Gray Whale fluke. (Courtesy of Lindsey Leigh Graham)

A Question From the Crow's Nest

How much does a Gray Whale eat in a day?

Answer from previous post: The bottom mud on the benthic cores is black because it is anoxic (lacking oxygen)

Date
Coordinates
72° 31' 27" N , 160° 31' 50" E
Location
Chukchi Sea
Weather Summary
Overcast, 4-6 foot waves
Temperature
41 degrees F
Wind Chill
33.7 degrees F
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