Finding Their Way
Each year, we thrill at the news of the gray whales' return and the mysterious wonder of finding their way. How do they do it? Landmarks might help. Is this whale looking around for important landmarks to guide its migration? Hearing helps too. Gray whales have acute hearing, and they migrate close to the coast. The sound of small creatures living in the kelp beds or of waves hitting the shore may tell whales that they are close to the coast. Whales use low-frequency sounds, like a primitive sonar, to guide them and to communicate with other whales. Whales also may detect the scents of different waters from certain areas to guide them on their way. The latest hypothesis is that whales respond to the earth's magnetic field. A whale has small particles of magnetite (iron oxide) in its brain, like a built-in compass!

Spyhopping gray whale

Image: Caroline Armon