The California Gray Whale is a baleen whale that endures the longest annual migration (~20,000 miles!) of any mammal on Earth. Gray Whales live to be 50-70 years old and can reach a length of about 50 ft. Every October, around 20,000 Gray Whales leave the Bering and Chukchi Seas of Alaska and head down the Pacific Coast to birth calves and find mates in the warm lagoons of Baja, Mexico.
They use the coastline to navigate their journey and provide protection from predators. Once they reach the lagoons, Gray Whales spend the next few months birthing and nursing calves and mating. In February and March, the first whales begin the northbound migration back to Alaska. Mothers with calves are usually the last to leave, and don’t do so until the new calves are ready for the long journey home, usually in late March to mid-April.
Gray whales are wonderful ambassadors for ocean conservation because they are mammals, and people, especially children, tend to feel an inherent connection and admiration for them. As such, we feel they can help us address the individual and collective factors that inhibit people from conserving shared natural resources. First, by providing youth with a real live moment with nature, we hope to combat their “out of sight, out of mind” mentality and establish a connection that many would never experience otherwise.
Through this opportunity, young people connect with nature, understand their relationship to it, and feel a pride of ownership for its well-being. Second, we teach children how humans impact the ocean and show them the cumulative results of individual behaviors. Using a hands-on activity at their schools, we demonstrate their place in the watershed. By doing so, we make it explicit how every instance of runoff pollution, marine mammal harassment, and marine debris negatively affects the ecosystem now and in the near to immediate future.