Barnacles And Whale Lice

Scarback, Depoe Bay's most famous resident gray whale

Barnacles and whale lice 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. Barnacles stay 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 have whale lice which are not true parasites. They feed on the skin and damaged tissue which is beneficial to whales. Whale lice gather around open wounds or scars of the whale. 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 bottom sediments and scrape off barnacles and whale lice as they feed.

The photo is of Scarback taken this past summer at Whale’s Tail Charters, 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.

Scarback is estimated to be 40-45 years old and has had 5 calves in that time. She has been coming back to Depoe Bay for over 20 years to feed along the coast.