Whale barnacle


Whale barnacle - C.Iburg


Coronula diadema

Whale barnacle

CMNPA 1999-0022

These egg to fist sized crustaceans are found on humpback whales (and reported from fin, blue, and sperm whales) especially on the lips, the long grooves of the throat and the genital region.

Whale barnacle 2 - C.Iburg


Barnacles begin their lives as free-swimming larvae, but appear able to ‘smell’ a nearby whale when ready to settle down. They then develop the heavy calcium-rich plates that shield the barnacle’s soft body (now lost in this specimen). As the plates fuse together, the whale’s skin is drawn into the spaces between the plates, permanently stitching the barnacle’s shell to the whale. Even though the barnacle may only live for one to two years, the whale carries the shell around until it can find a way to scrape it off.

Luckily, the barnacles only attach to the surface layer of the whale’s very thick skin and blubber layer. They don’t harm the whale, just hitchhike through the plankton-rich water that the whales enjoy.

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2 Responses to Whale barnacle

  1. Seb says:

    What is the function of those groupings of three openings on the sides of the barnacle?

    • Jean-Marc Gagnon says:

      Seb, thanks for you question!

      Most barnacles have an external skeleton made of calcium plates; that is particularly the case for un-pedunculated (non-stacked) barnacles.
      In the case whale barnacles like this one (Genus Coronula), the marginal plates (rostrum, carina and laterals) are fused and the operculum plates (terga & scuta) are either reduced, absent or fused with the marginal plates.

      The openings (in five sets, around the operculum region) are simply some of the plates that are worn near the operculum region and happen to be hollow.

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