FACT OF THE WEEK: Hairy Humpback Whales

FACT OF THE WEEK: Humpback whales have hair!

MORE ON THIS: You probably know that whales and dolphins are marine mammals. Marine mammals, like terrestrial or land mammals, must have a certain set of characteristics to be called mammals – these include giving birth to live young and having hairs on their bodies. But where are the hairs on whales?

In fact, you have probably seen the hairs on humpback whales and not known what they were. The bumps on the rostrum, or head, and the pectoral fins of a humpback whale are, in fact, hair follicles. Called “tubercles,” these fist-sized bumps contain one hair follicle each, connected to a set of sensitive nerves. Why do humpback whales have these sensitive whiskers? There are multiple speculative theories in scientific literature, but no consensus.

Some think that tubercles serve as a sensory organ for the whale. It is thought that the single hair in each tubercle is used to detect temperature change in the water, the speed of the whale, and may even help to detect the presence of prey in the whale’s “blind spots.” Along with the idea that these tubercles serve a sensory purpose, comes an idea that tubercles assist with the hydrodynamics of the animal. It has been shown that these bumps increase lift and decrease drag in the water. Humpbacks are assumed to be one of the most acrobatic whales for their size. These tubercles may be a contributing factor for their agility.

Whale tubercles have inspired design ideas behind wind turbines, airplane wings and propellers. An energy company called WhalePower is applying tubercle-inspired bumps to numerous types of wind turbines and fans including industrial ceiling fans and computer fans to improve their efficiency, safety, and cost-effectiveness. These hairy humpback whales have inspired a new type of “greener” energy technology.

FURTHER READING:

  1. Forestell, P. H. and Kaufman, G. D. 2008. Humpbacks of Hawaiʻi: The Long Journey Back. Hawaii, USA. 216 pages.
  2. “Whalepower.” N.D. The Science.
  3. Canter, N. 2008. Humpback whales inspire new wind turbine technology.

Written by Stephanie Stack

Ocean Camp in Maui

“Go Wild!” The Paradoxical “Promotion” of Hawaii’s 50th State Fair

As SeaWorld celebrates its 50th anniversary, Hawaii hosts its annual 50th State Fair. The theme—”Go Wild!”  The paradox—the display of captive animals, such as a sea lion performance, to “promote” this. The Paradoxical `Promotion’ of Hawaii’s 50th State Fair
Last week at Pacific Whale Foundation Discovery Center, we completed the first week of our yearly summer Ocean Camp where keiki (Hawaiian for “children”) ages 5-12 learned about pinnipeds. The program allowed campers to distinguish the difference between seals and sea lions as well as identify their various natural behaviors like molting and hauling-out. After these fun-filled educational experiences and reading about the sea lion performances advertised on the E.K. Fernandez Shows, Inc. website, campers were determined to make their voice heard on behalf of the creatures they very much came to respect and appreciate without viewing or participating in a sea lion show.  They eagerly wrote letters like the one below to express their concern.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

You, too, can join the plea of our future generation by directly expressing your concern about these marine mammals that were transported from Florida under the guise of education by E.K. Fernandez Shows, Inc. who “strive to provide exciting entertainment and attractions” and  Sea Lion Splash who are the only traveling sea lion exhibit in the United States. To use your voice:

Pacific Whale Foundation strives in mission to protect our oceans through science and advocacy.  We are an active participant in global efforts to address threats to whales and other marine life. We have been pioneers in non-invasive whale research and early leaders in educating the public, from a scientific perspective, about these marine mammals and the need for ocean conservation. We continue to do this through various integrated research, conservation and education programs such as Ocean Camp.