Monday, January 03, 2011
It looks like the gray whale season is off to a great start! It wasn’t but only two days after the last blog I posted that we spotted our first gray whales of the season.
If you happened to have read that blog, you saw that the first whale that the American Cetacean Society saw was a breaching whale, and so did we! Obviously it wasn’t the same whale because the first one is way south by now, however, maybe the gray whales in general are feeling a little more playful and we’ll get a lot of breaching this year.
If you’re wondering why whales breach, that’s a question many people and scientists ask. There are definitely some ideas, but no one really knows for sure. In the case of the gray whales, one idea is that they’re doing it for fun, or possibly trying to show off to each other.
Another idea is that they’re trying to break barnacles free from their bodies. When the gray whales are in the lagoons in Mexico, barnacles will attach to their bodies and dig in for a free ride. Barnacles are filter feeders. They attach to the whale and as the whale swims the barnacle is able to feed on little plankton in the water. The barnacles can embed deep into the skin to ensure they don’t fall off. Having barnacles don’t seem to harm the gray whales, but it might create a little drag or a little bit of an itch. If it does in fact make the whales itch, then it makes sense that they’d breach and slap their skin across the water until they break free. There have been some reports of a whale breaching over and over again and once it stopped, it had patches of open flesh. Because those barnacles get so deep, if they break off, they’re going to take some flesh with them.
Although it sounds like it might be dangerous to be breaking out large pieces of flesh, gray whales also have lice on their bodies that eat dead skin and clean out wounds. Although we call them lice, they’re not actually lice. They’re little crustaceans. They pass from whale to whale contact. One whale had over 1,000 little lice on them!
Even though we don’t really know why whales breach, I know I love to watch them do it! It’s amazing to see them fly out of the water, and I hope this is a season full of flying whales. The weather has been a little tough this winter, but with any luck, the sun will start shining and we’ll see a ton of gray whales on our daily boat trips!
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