May 2012

Catch a ride on a whale, the fastest way to travel across the ocean.

What are the lumps on the humpback whales skin in the Whale Mall?

Answer

The growth of living organisms on structures submerged in marine and freshwater environments is called “biofouling”. This biofouling growth can also occur on whales and other large-slow moving marine animals. However in these cases we refer to the biofouling as parasites.

Whale breach with barnacles on the skin. Top right:  Barnacles on the front fin. Bottom right:  Lice on the whale body. Photo: Shona Marks Whale Barnacle (Coronula diadema) from Humpback Whale beached on Stradbroke Island, QLD. Photo: Shona Marks

The lumps seen on the whales in the Whale Mall are barnacles. There are specific species of barnacles that are only found on whales. They burrow into the flesh of the whale and attach very 
strongly. Other parasites found on whales are Whale Lice. Each lice species is found only on a single host species. Their entire life cycle is completed on the whale, there are no free-swimming stages and around 7,500 lice can live on a single whale. The photographs shown here are of a barnacles and lice collected off a beached humpback whale on Stradbroke Island.

These hitchhikers must cause no-end of itching to their host. Often whales are filmed scraping their bodies along the sea floor to remove them. Other large animals like the Sunfish and Codfish are regular visitors to ‘cleaning stations’ where smaller fish pick off and eat the parasites.

Whale lice (Cyamus sp.) from Humpback Whale beached on Stradbroke Island, QLD. Photo: Shona Marks

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