Whale Lice and Barnacles
Barnacles are a fact of life for gray whales; there are hundreds of pounds of barnacles on gray whales. These barnacles attach themselves to gray whales in the lagoons when the whales are born and are on gray whales for as long as they are alive. Barnacles depigment the skin when they attach themselves to the whale, when the barnacles die and fall off they leave a small round white circle or ring. Barnacle scars create a unique pattern on each whale, which can help in identifying the gray whale.
Gray whales also have whale lice which are not true parasites. They feed on the skin and damaged tissue actually helping the whales. The lice gather around open wounds or scars of the whale. These lice can spread from mother whales to their calves during birth, and nursing. Whale lice are orange colored patches around the barnacles and in crevices of the whale’s body such as creases and the mouth line. To get rid of the whale lice, whales rub themselves along the sea bottom or breach. Gray whales feed on the bottom sediments such as amphipods and scrape off barnacles and whale lice as they feed.
Above is a picture of “Scarback” the gray whale taken this past summer on the Whales Tail, she is the most famous resident gray whale off Depoe Bay. Scarback has been around since 1979 and can be identified by the large scar on her right dorsal hump. It is believed that Scarback got her wound from an exploding harpoon which happened sometime between 1985 and 1988.