Learning About Whales From the Inside Out!

Gray whales are some of the most massive mammals that roam our ocean because they reach lengths of almost 45 feet.  Could you even imagine what it would be like to come face to face with a whale of that size? It’s pretty mind-blowing to think of!

An average gray whale will reach lengths of about 36 to 45 feet and weigh upwards of almost 80,000 pounds!  Their tongue alone is about 5 feet long and can weigh almost 3000 pounds.  But that’s not the only impressive measurement.  For us humans our brain is about 3 pounds whereas for gray whale their brains are over 9 pounds.  That’s triple what our own brains weigh! Not only that but the heart of a gray whale weighs over 285 pounds alone.  These guys have some pretty enormous parts inside of them.  

Image Left Gray Whale Brain, Image Right Gray Whale Heart

The backbone of a gray whale is composed of 56 vertebrae – vertebrae that are so large Native Americans used to use their vertebrae as stools!  This just further proves the point that gray whales are massive mammals!

But their size is not the only impressive thing about their anatomy. The lungs of a gray whale are directly connected to both blowholes rather than being connected to their mouth.  And when they breathe they expel 100 gallons of air making a heart-shaped spout that will reach heights of almost 15 feet!  Gray whales also have an extremely flexible rib cage that comes in handy when they dive to deep depths.  With this flexibility their rib cage will bend as they dive down preventing anything from breaking.  This adaptation definitely comes in handy as Gray whales can to depths of almost 400 feet deep lasting anywhere from 3 to 15 minutes.

Since Gray Whales reach such impressive lengths they must each a lot in order to sustain them.  When they are first-born young gray whales will consume milk from their mothers that is about 53% fat.  This milk is so fatty that is has the consistency of cottage cheese!  But as they grow older they no longer depend on their mother’s milk, instead they feed on things found in the ocean.  Gray Whales have an average of about 130 to 180 plates of baleen on each side of their upper jaw. Baleen is a hair-like structure (made of keratin) that hangs down from the upper jaw of a whale.  While feeding they utilize their baleen to filter out water and sediment while keeping the delicious benthic invertebrates trapped in their mouth.


Gray Whale.  National Audubon Society: Guide to Marine Mammals of the World.  2002.

Written By: Alex Feltes