Gray Whale osteology

From: Phil Clapham (
Date: Thu Oct 11 2001 - 08:26:38 EDT


I'm not surprised you haven't been able to find this - this sort of
information is very obscure and you have to dig back into some very old
and not readily available sources that only us weird whale biologists
know about.

Anyway, the vertebral formula for the gray whale, based on a skeleton in
the British Museum is: C 7, D 14, L 14, Ca 21. Typically, these vary
somewhat from one individual to another.

According to an old source, "the... cervical vertebrae are quite
independent of each other as in the Rorquals, and they have the wide
lateral foramina formed by the transverse processes, which is so
conspicuous a feature of those vertebrae in Balaenoptera and Megaptera."
(Beddard 1900, cited in True 1904).

Concerning your other questions, I have to check on this with a friend
at Smithsonian. I'm not an anatomist, but the friend - Jim Mead - is
about the best in the world on cetaceans and he'll know the answer.
Will get back to you asap.


References cited above:

Beddard, W.S. 1900. A book of whales. London (no publisher given) 320
True, F.W. 1904. The whalebone whales of the western North Atlantic.
Smithsonian Institution Press (reprinted 1983). 332 pp + 50 plates.

Kristy Metcalf wrote:
> Dear Dr. Clapham,
> My name is Kristen Metcalf and I am a Junior at the
> University of the Pacific in Stockton California. I am
> in a marine birds and mammal class and have recently
> visited the gray whale skeleton displayed in the
> Monterey Bay Aquarium. I have to write a report about
> the bone structure and I am having some difficulties
> counting some of the vertebrae from my pictures. I
> have searched many library books, resources, and
> cruzed the web for hours with little luck, I was
> wondering if you could possibly help me with the
> numbers or point in the right direction. Do you
> possibly know the number of cervical, thoracic,
> lumbar, and caudal vertebrae there are in a gray
> whale? And possibly explain if there is or isn't
> fusion of the cervical vertebrae? And the last
> question is to explain the condition of the centrums
> and the transverse processes of the whale rib cage and
> its ability to articulate. I would greatly appreciate
> any help that you caould possibly lend me. Thank you
> very much for your time.
> Kristen Metcalf
> University of the Pacific
> __________________________________________________
> Do You Yahoo!?
> Make a great connection at Yahoo! Personals.

The Society for Marine Mammalogy will be holding its 14th Biennial
Conference from 28 November to 3 December 2001, in Vancouver, BC.  Visit
the conference Web site at for full details of
this important meeting.

Phillip J. Clapham, Ph.D. Large Whale Biology Program Protected Species Branch Northeast Fisheries Science Center 166 Water Street Woods Hole, MA 02543, U.S.A.

tel. 508 495-2316 fax 508 495-2066 email:

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : Mon Feb 25 2002 - 21:06:00 EST