Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Kai. Kai Wonders, “what are on gray whales skin?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Kai!
In fact, they’re not fish at all! You may already know that whales are mammals. Like dolphins and porpoises, whales are aquatic mammals that share some common characteristics with other mammals, like humans.
For example, all mammals are warm-blooded. They breathe oxygen from the air. They also give birth to live young and have hair.
If you’re thinking, “Hmm…I’ve never seen a hairy whale before,” you’re not alone. Many people don’t realize that whales have hair. After all, you never see a whale with a comb, do you?
Since whales aren’t furry, you’re probably WONDERing where they have hair. Have you ever seen a whale up close? If so, you’ve probably noticed that their skin seems rather smooth and not at all hairy.
Of the over 80 species of whales in the world, only a few have visible hair. Many whales have hair on their bodies before they’re born, but it often goes away shortly after birth.
Right whales have hair on their chins and upper jaws. Bowhead whales often have hair on their lips, chins, snouts, and blowholes. Still, experts say whales don’t need hair to keep warm—they have blubber for that! Instead, scientists believe whale hair may serve another purpose. It may help the animals sense things around them. It may also play a role in communicating a need to nurse in their young.
Hair isn’t the only thing that can make whale skin bumpy from time to time, though. Normally smooth whale skin can become bumpy from scratches caused by interactions with other marine animals while feeding.
Marine parasites can also cause skin bumps and discoloration in whales. For example, whales are often seen with whale lice and barnacles attached to their skin. Both of these are skin parasites. Whale lice are related to skeleton shrimp, while barnacles are related to crabs and lobsters.
If whales rub up against something that removes these creatures, scars on their skin are often left behind. That’s why some whales have a spotted or “mottled” look to their skin. As if these problems weren’t enough, scientists now also believe it’s possible for whales to get sunburned. Due to ozone depletion, whales are being exposed to the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays when they surface to breathe. This leads to sunburn and other skin problems.
Aren’t whales interesting? It’s no WONDER people have been fascinated by them for so long. The next time you see a whale up close—whether it’s at the aquarium or on the open ocean—try to get a look at its skin. It may help you learn more about these amazing animals.
Standards: NGSS.LS1.D, CCRA.L.3, CCRA.L.6, CCRA.R.1, CCRA.R.2, CCRA.R.4, CCRA.R.10, CCRA.SL.1, CCRA.W.2, CCRA.W.3, CCRA.W.7, CCRA.L.1, CCRA.L.2