Gray whales near the Baja Peninsula in Mexico have found an unconventional way to get some pampering – they approach whale-watching boats, where a kind boat captain helps remove irritants from their bodies.
A recent video captured this heartwarming behavior in the Ojo de Liebre lagoon off the coast of Baja, California. The footage shows a large gray whale being gently relieved of whale lice by the captain of a small whale-watching boat carrying tourists.
The captain, Paco Jimenez Franco, shared his excitement, stating that he has repeated this unique spa treatment with the same whale and others. The guests on board were also thrilled by the experience.
Whale lice, known as cyamids, are crab-like creatures that live on the heads and undersides of whales. They can be both beneficial and irritating for massive mammals.
While they consume algae and flaking skin, they can also cause discomfort due to their sharp claws. Zoologists believe that gray whales have a love-hate relationship with these creatures, as they have sensitive skin.
A British zoologist, Mark Carwardine, explained, “It can hurt when a whale louse grabs hold of your finger – it feels like tiny pinpricks.”
Captain Franco removed a cyamid from the head of a female whale on her first approach to him. After experiencing relief, she continued to return for more grooming sessions.
Unlike barnacles, whale lice are true parasites, feeding on gray whale skin and damaged tissue, particularly around open wounds or scars.
In addition to this unique spa treatment, researchers have observed humpback whales engaging similarly in Gold Coast Bay, southeast Queensland, Australia.
The humpbacks were seen performing entire body and side rolls on the ocean floor, lined with fine sand and rubble.
Dr. Olaf Meynecke, a marine ecologist from the Whales and Climate Research Program and Coastal and Marine Research Centre, explained that these humpbacks likely use sand to molten and remove ectoparasites, such as barnacles.
The whales seem to select specific areas suitable for this exfoliation behavior, which is essential for maintaining a healthy bacterial skin community.
Barnacles are a type of acorn barnacle that attaches to baleen whales and toothed whales during their early life. They must be frequently removed to prevent excessive growth, leading to drag and energy loss over time.
These heartwarming and fascinating interactions between whales and humans provide valuable insights into these majestic creatures’ intelligence and social nature.
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