FACT OF THE WEEK: Humpback whales are home to three different species of barnacles and one species of whale lice

MORE ON THIS: The relationship between these barnacles and humpback whales is an example of commensalism, where one species benefits and the other is unaffected. The barnacle benefits from this relationship because it is provided with a place to live and filter food. The whale seems to be not affected by this, and might even benefit as well. Humpback whales have been known to roll over when being attacked, so the predator is faced with a tough surface of barnacles instead of soft skin.

Humpback whale with barnacles

Whale lice are highly specialized – each species of whale has its own unique variety of whale lice. Their name is actually a misnomer, because while they look like human lice, they are actually a type of crustacean called cyamids. The relationship between whales and their lice is another example of commensalism, like barnacles. Whale lice feed on algae and whale skin, but there is no evidence that whale lice are harmful to whales.


  1. Danelesko T., 2013. What’s On That Whale? Wild Whales – b.c. cetacean sightings network. http://wildwhales.org/2013/02/whats-on-that-whale/
  2. Sajem Y., 2014. The Symbiotic Relationship Between a Barnacle Living on a Whale’s Skin. Animals. http://animals.pawnation.com/symbiotic-relationship-between-barnacle-living-whales-skin-10968.html
  3. Sandes A., 2013. Whale Barnacles and Whale Lice. Kimberly Whale Watching. http://kimberleywhales.com.au/whale-barnacles-and-whale-lice/

Written by Patrice Hostetter


Posted by:pwfresearchintern

This account is run by the Pacific Whale Foundation research department interns. Contributors to this account are: Emma Decloe, Chelsea Brown, Eilidh Miligan, Melissa Freese, Sarah Mousel, and Patrice Hostetter. If you would like to read more about our internship program or learn how to apply for an internship, please visit http://www.pacificwhale.org/content/research-internships

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