Grey Whale (Atlantic population)

Eschrichtius robustus

SARA Status
No Status
NS
Special Concern
SC
Threatened
TH
Endangered
EN
Extirpated
EX

SARA Status

  • No Status NS
  • Special Concern SC
  • Threatened TH
  • Endangered EN
  • Extirpated EX
COSEWIC Status
Not at Risk
NR
Special Concern
SC
Threatened
TH
Endangered
EN
Extirpated
EX

COSEWIC Status

  • Not at Risk NR
  • Special Concern SC
  • Threatened TH
  • Endangered EN
  • Extirpated EX

At a glance

Named for its greyish colour, grey whales were historically found along the continental shelf of the North Atlantic and North Pacific Oceans. The Atlantic population of the grey whale is extirpated, meaning that it is no longer found in the wild in Canada, and has been extirpated since the 18th century. These whales are believed to have visited the Scotian Shelf, the Gulf of St. Lawrence, the Grand Banks and possibly even Hudson Bay. However, at present, there are no grey whales in the Atlantic Ocean.

A recovery strategy is currently being developed for this population. Sadly, at this point, it is unclear if anything can be done to recover the Atlantic population of this species.

About the grey whale

Grey whales reach sexual maturity at approximately five years of age. Once a female whale reaches maturity, she gives birth to one calf, every two years. The gestation period is approximately 14 months.

How to recognize a grey whale

The grey whale’s skin colour ranges from dark to light grey with varying degrees of mottling. Its skin also carries patches of barnacles, particularly around the head. It is the only large whale in which the upper jaw extends beyond the lower one. Its body is heavily marked with white scars from parasites. The grey whale has no dorsal fin but it does have a row of humps, called knuckles, located in the lower part of the back. The grey whale is a baleen whale. Baleen whales have long thin plates of keratin—baleen—hanging from their upper jaws in place of teeth.

Grey whales reach a maximum length of 15 metres. Females are larger than males. At birth, calves measure approximately 5 metres in length.

Where the grey whale lives

The grey whale is a coastal species that frequents bays and estuaries. They have been known to use offshore currents to assist them during migrations. There are currently no known grey whales in the Atlantic Ocean.

Why it’s at risk

In the Pacific, habitat changes in areas used for calving and breeding might be a limiting factor for grey whales. These modifications to their habitat are caused by human industrial activity. Grey whales have also been injured or killed by entanglement in fishing gear and collisions with boats. It’s possible that underwater noise associated with proposed oil development in British Columbia could also alter migration patterns, although any long-term effects of under-water noise on marine mammals remain unknown.

What’s being done

The Atlantic population of the grey whale is listed as extirpated (extinct in Canada) and protected under the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA). In Canada, it is also protected by the federal Fisheries Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Regulations. Little information is known as to whether this population can be reintroduced into the wild. A recovery strategy is underway with a projected completion date of June, 2006.

What can you do?

The Atlantic population of the grey whale is now an extirpated species in Canada. Little is known about whether it can be reintroduced into the wild. Learn more about the grey whale and be aware of human threats to their survival, industrial activity and water pollution. Get involved with the Habitat Stewardship Program for Species at Risk (HSP) or another conservation organization.

Fore more information, visit the Species at Risk (SARA) Public Registry Profile.

Background information provided by Environment Canada, August 2005

Grey Whale (Atlantic population)

Grey whale - John Ford

Grey whale - John Ford

Scientific name: Eschrichtius robustus
Taxonomy: Mammals (marine)
SARA Status: Extirpated
COSEWIC Status: Extirpated
Region: Atlantic Ocean

Grey Whale - John Ford

Photo credit: John Ford

Did You Know?

Straining for dinner
Grey whales use their baleen plates like a strainer to filter sediment and locate their prey such as tiny crab-like animals called amphipods and worms. They scoop up mouthfuls of sediment and allow it to sift through the spaces between the baleen, with only the prey left behind in their mouths.

John Ford, Grey whales use their baleen to filter food from the water.

Photo credit: John Ford. Grey whales use their baleen to filter food from the water.

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