Gray whales and whaling - The centuries-old battle for survival
Intensive whaling drastically reduced gray whale numbers over the last three to four centuries. Of the original three gray whale populations, one in the North Atlantic is extinct, one is critically endangered in the Western North Pacific (with as few as 150 individuals remaining), and one has recovered from very low levels in the Eastern North Pacific and was removed from the U.S. Endangered Species List in 1994. It is the Eastern Northern Pacific we will be doing the documentary on.
The Gray whale appears very different from any other whales and indeed is contained in its own taxonomic family. Instead of a dorsal fin, gray whales have a dorsal hump followed by nine to 13 bumps along their dorsal ridges. They produce a range of sounds including moans, rumbles, and growls. The most prevalent call is a series of knocking sounds. Gray whales were known by whalers as "devilfish" because they defended themselves and their calves so fiercely.
Gray whales in the Baja California region are known as being "friendly" – they have an unusual tendency to approach whale-watching boats and even let whale-watchers touch them and scratch their tongues. This tells a deep and fascinating relationship that they form with humans, as many of them were still alive during the "whaling years", and yet today are friendly to humans who almost decimated their population at the turn of the 20th century.