Edmonds Discovery Programs
A Leader in Conservation Education since 1980

For two weeks in March, 2010, the beaches of Edmonds were frequently visited by feeding Gray Whales, much to the delight of beach goers. The whales were just some of the thousands of Gray Whales that migrate each year between Baja Mexico and Alaska - at over 10,000 miles annually, the longest mammal migration on earth.

With adults growing to over 40 feet in length and 30 tons in weight, they depend on the plentiful food resources to sustain them over their 50 year lifespan. 

The Whales’ remarkable journey begins late each year in the lagoons and water off Baja, Mexico. There, in protected lagoons and bays, tens of thousands of Gray Whales begin to congregate for mating and calving. By February a majority of the total population of Pacific Gray whales can be found in these waters.

As soon as mating takes place many males, and females without calves, begin their annual northerly journey which will take them past Puget Sound and the Salish Sea, and ultimately to the feeding grounds of the Bering and Chukchi Seas.

By March females with calves are on the move north as well. Traveling up to 75 miles per day, both day and night, these whales live off fat stored nearly a year before in the north Pacific feeding grounds.

photo credit Dr. J. Darling, Pacific Wildlife Foundation

Gray Whales are the only baleen whales to feed along the bottom of the seafloor. To eat, they turn on their side (usually the right) and scoop up large mouthfuls of bottom sediment and strain it for invertebrates such as ghost shrimp, which they swallow.

Two distinct groups of Gray Whales stop in Puget Sound on their migration from Baja to Alaska. The first group seems to know the best feeding grounds around Whidbey and surrounding islands. The second group however seems unfamiliar with the area, and seems to arrive emaciated and very hungry. Some members of the second group have died in local waters, though the root cause of their ill health is uncertain.

Which group our Edmonds visitors belonged to is uncertain, but the presence of a healthy appearing calve, along with active feeding behavior suggests they may have belonged to the first group.

Edmonds resident and NOAA scientist Alan Mearns shot some video of an adult Gray Whale and calf at Edmonds' Marina Beach on March 17th 2010. The video has been uploaded to YouTube for public viewing.