Gray Whales Breach Next to Kayakers Off California Coast in Amazing Video and Pictures

Videos and pictures show gray whales breaching next to kayakers off the coast of California during their annual migration south.

The images were shared by whale watching company Everyday California. In one video, a whale appears just feet from a kayaker, while an image shows a whale right next to tourists on the trip.

Everyday California launched its kayaking excursion from La Jolla, in San Diego County. The trip was organized to coincide with the winter gray whale migration. Every year, hundreds of gray whales move from their feeding grounds off the coast of Alaska southwards to Baja California.

The 12,000-mile round trip is one of the longest annual migrations of any mammal on Earth.

These whales, which can grow up to 49 feet and weigh around 90,000lbs, are naturally curious as a species and so are the focus for ecotourism and whale watching along the west coast of the U.S.

Gray whales begin their migration in fall, making their way to Baja California for the winter months where they give birth to calves between early January and mid-February.

By the end of February, the whales have started to make their way back northwards, moving up along the west coast until they reach Alaska in May.

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There are two main populations of gray whale—the eastern North Pacific stock, which is found on the U.S. west coast—and the western North Pacific stock, which lives along the coast of eastern Asia.

The species was hunted aggressively during industrial whaling in the 20th century. In the mid 1980s, with the species close to extinction, the International Whaling Commission put a stop to commercial whaling and gray whale numbers bounced back.

Grey whales become sexually mature between the ages of 6 and 12. It is a long-lived species, and while the upper age limit is not known, one female was estimated to be between 75 and 80 after her death.

One of the biggest threats facing gray whales are strikes by vessels, with the west coast having some of the heaviest shipping traffic in the world. They are also at risk of entanglement in fishing gear.

In 2019, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) launched an investigation as a result of an "unusual mortality event" where over 100 gray whales washed up dead along the west coast. So far in 2021, 55 gray whales have been found dead along the coast, which is slightly less than 2020, when there were a total of 79 gray whale strandings.