Whales of the Pacific Ocean

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December 19, 2017
dolphins jumping out of the water
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January 10, 2018

The Pacific Ocean is home to an immeasurable amount of unique and beautiful sea creatures including fish, sharks, dolphin, turtles, seals, octopus, and even the mysterious giant squid- and that’s just to name a few. But the largest and most widely recognizable inhabitants of this great ocean are the various Pacific Ocean whales. There exists about 86 different species of whales, dolphins, and porpoises on earth today, with whales of the Pacific falling into one of two categories: Odontocetes (toothed whales) and Mysticetes (baleen whales). Many whales from both categories call the Pacific Ocean home either year-round or during their migration journey.

 

Gray Whales

The incredible gray whale is one of the most common Pacific Ocean whales that can be viewed at certain times of the year off the Western U.S. coast. These whales of the Pacific can grow to be over 50 feet long, weighing in at up to 40 tons when fully mature. The gray whale is named after the dark, grayish color of its body. Gray whales are known for taking one of the longest migration trips of any animal, traveling between 9,000-16,000 miles between their feeding and mating grounds. In October, these Pacific Ocean whales will begin the trek from the Bering and Chukchi seas and head towards the southern Gulf of California and the Baja peninsula of Mexico, where they will mate and give birth. The total duration of their migration lasts 2-3 months.

The gray whale will typically live between 50-70 years, and require a 13.5-month gestation period for their offspring. At birth, most gray whales of the Pacific will measure about 14 feet in length.

Blue Whales

Another of the most famous whales of the Pacific is the blue whale, the largest mammal known to exist on earth. Blue whales can grow to be up to 100 feet long and weigh as much as 150 tons. An interesting fact about these Pacific Ocean whales is that they are among the loudest animals on earth today. Their whines and moans, used to communicate between pods and express grief, can be heard several miles away below the ocean surface.

Despite the incredible size of the blue whales of the Pacific, their diet primarily consists of small sea creatures such as krill. This is because the blue whale has a small esophagus and no teeth, making it impossible to consume large prey. To eat, blue Pacific Ocean whales use “filter feeding,” which consists of swimming towards groups of krill with an open mouth, then pushing excess water out of its mouth while the krill get caught in the net-like bristles of its mouth.

These majestic Pacific Ocean whales spend the majority of the year in colder polar waters during feeding season, but will migrate to warm, tropical waters come mating season. It is during this time that the blue whales can be seen in areas such as the Southern Gulf of California. Once at their mating location, blue whales can be observed mating, socializing, and giving birth to offspring.

The blue whales of the Pacific can live for up to 90 years.

 

Killer Whales

The Orcinus orca, more commonly known as the killer whale, is one of the most recognizable Pacific Ocean whales. Their signature black backs, white chests and sides, and white circles near the eyes make them easy to identify. The killer whale is an extremely intelligent sea mammal, known to be well organized and for having complex social structures.

Fully mature killer whales of the Pacific can grow to be between 20-26 feet in length and weigh between 8,000-12,000 lbs. On average, the gestation period for a baby killer whale lasts for 17 months. Female killer Pacific Ocean whales typically reach sexual maturity at 15 years of age, while males begin reproducing between the ages of 19-21.

A unique characteristic of these Pacific Ocean whales is that they hunt in groups, and can even use echolocation to do so. Echolocation allows them to better maneuver around objects in the ocean as they hunt for prey, where light may be scarce.

Killer whales can have a varied diet, as they’ll consume everything from fish, squid, penguins, birds, octopus, seals, sea lions, sharks, dolphins, and other whales. These Pacific Ocean whales can consume an impressive 2% to 10% of their body weight in food every day, depending on their age and diet.

 

Humpback Whale

The humpback whale is yet another widely known and recognized whales of the Pacific. These sea mammals can grow to be between 40-60 feet long, weighing up to 44 tons. The humpback whales of the Pacific are most well known for their ability to continuously breach the surface of the water, a surprising acrobatic ability given their great size. These spectacular Pacific Ocean whales are also associated with their beautiful whale songs, which can be miles away from the spot of origin. It has been found that humpback whales use their whale songs during mating season to attract mates, as well as to indicate roles in their social structure.

Humpback whales of the Pacific Ocean maintain a diverse diet, subsisting on salmon, herring, krill, capelin, mackerel, and other small prey. As a baleen whale, the humpback does not possess any teeth, and instead swallows its prey whole using bristles.  During feeding season, these whales prefer colder climates in high latitude areas including Alaska and the Antarctic. During mating season, they will visit warm, low latitude areas such as the Gulf of Maine and Hawaii.

It is believed that a healthy humpback whale can live to be up to 50 years of age.

The various types of whales of the Pacific Ocean are truly magnificent mammals, possessing unique traits and characteristics that make them invaluable to our ecosystem. Catching sight of one of these magnificent sea creatures can be a breath-taking experience that is sure to leave an impression. Whale watching excursions are the perfect way to safely observe the various Pacific Ocean whales as they socialize, mate, and even given birth.

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