Teacher Tip: Building Students' Vocabulary with Journey North

adaptation A physical or behavioral feature that evolved in response to an organism's environment, due to pressures for survival. Adaptations for survival include how a species looks (its anatomy and morphology) as well as how it behaves (how it moves, obtains food, reproduces, responds to danger, etc.). See Adaptations That Help Gray Whales Survive.

American Cetacean Society (ACS) The world's oldest whale conservation group, founded in 1967, with an office in San Pedro, CA and chapters in Los Angeles, Orange County, Puget Sound (Seattle), Monterey, San Francisco, and the Channel Islands (Santa Barbara-Ventura)

Shauna with amhipod.
The blowholes of a gray whale baby.
Photo: BajaEcotours
Cow and Calf
Photo Keith Jones
Dorsal Ridge
Photo Caroline Armon
A fluking whale shows its tail
Photo Keith Jones
Photo: Mike Hawe
Gray whale showing its flukes as it takes a long, deep dive.
Photo Keith Jones

amphipods Tiny shrimp-like animals that live in sediment on the ocean floor. They are a gray whale's favorite food.

Baleen Curtains of fliber, like a broom, in a whale's mouth instead of teeth. The baleen acts as a filter. When the whale's mouth is full, it closes it, forces the water out. The small animals of the whale's diet get trapped in the baleen and stay in the whale's mouth to be swallowed.

Blowholes the two openings on top of a gray whale's head; the place where the whale inhales and exhales air from its lungs.

blubber A "jacket" of fat five or six inches thick. Blubber insulates a whale against cold. It supplies an energy reserve during migration, when whales eat little or nothing.

Breaching Breaching is when the whale leaps almost clear of the water and falls back with a splash.

bubble blast When the whale exhales under water. A mom sometimes does a bubble blast under a calf — kind of a Jacuzzi for the kid. In the lagoons a female may do a bubble blast under a boat. But no one knows why they bubble blast during the migration.

calf A baby whale

Cetacean the order of mammals that is made up of whales, dolphins, and porpoises. Living members fall into two groups: odontocetes (toothed whales) and mysticetes (baleen whales, with two blowholes on top of their head).

cow A mother whale

dorsal ridge the series of knuckles along the backbone of a gray whale, differentialting it from other whale species. Gray whales have a dorsal ridge instead of a dorsal fin.

endangered A species whose numbers are so low that they are in danger of dying out (becoming extinct). Gray whales were removed from the endangered list in 1994, but the population remains watched.

flukes The whale’s tail; the two lobes of a whale’s tail

fluking: A whale raises its tail, as when getting ready to dive, and you see a good view of the flukes.

International Whaling Commission (IWC) An organization formed in 1946 to protect whales. The IWC had laws passed that prohibited the killing of gray whales, which were close to extinction in the early 1940s.

mammal An animal that gives birth to live young, breathes air, is warm blooded, and nurses its young. Mammals have hair/fur. Even whales have a few “whiskers.”

marine mammals Mammals that live in the sea

nursery lagoon A warm, shallow, and sheltered ocean waters along the coast where baby whales are born. The gray whale nursery lagoons are in Baja California Mexico.

population The numbers of individuals. The gray whale population was nearly extinct in the early 1940s. Thanks to protective laws, the whale population grew by 14,000, or 500 per year between 1946 and 1983. By 1983, there were 16,000 whales in the Pacific. By 1992, the population was over 20,000.

pulse A sudden surge in the number of migrating whales

salinity Saltiness of the ocean water

sounding Refers to a whale’s behavior when it prepares for a deeper dive, which lasts 3-5 minutes. Sounding whales take a few breaths at the surface, lift their backs and flukes out of the water, then disappear, leaving a slick area of water behind them called a footprint.

spout A whale's visible, noisy exhale of air, water vapor,

spyhop A whale behavior in which the animal points its head straight out of the water, with its eyes above the surface. Presumably, this is to look around. Gray Whales have been seen spyhopping along their migration route. Looking around by spyhopping may play a role in the whales’ ability to navigate the approximately 10,000-mile roundtrip journey between Mexico to Alaska. A spyhop can last from 15 to 30 seconds.

turnaround period The date or dates, typically in February, when the number of northbound whales exceeds the number of southbound whales.