Whale lice are “highly specialized amphipod crustaceans” that live on the skin of marine mammals such as whales.

Whale lice are “highly specialized amphipod crustaceans” that live on the skin of marine mammals such as whales.

Screenshot from Noyo Marine Science Center on Facebook

Much about whales remains a mystery, but among the more surprising facts we know, whales have a problem with lice, large enough to match their reliable size.

The phenomenon was illustrated when a dead humpback washed up on a California beach, and was found to be covered with pink and red “whale lice.”»

Some were also “still moving,” according to the Noyo Marine Science Center.

“Imagine having beneficial but creepy crustaceans crawling all over your skin,” the center wrote in a Facebook post on Oct. 1.

“Almost every whale lives this way. They are covered in beneficial hitchhikers called whale lice. They are actually crustaceans that eat algae from the folds of the whale’s skin.’

Center shared a few photos that were shown the parasites resembled something between a scorpion and a tick. They appeared in clusters – like a pink rash – inside “skin lesions, genital folds, nostrils, eyes and other external openings”.

Once in the right place, the whale louse feasts on “the host’s tissues or liquid secretions,” experts say.

“Whale lice spend their entire life cycle on the body of whales, being transmitted from whale to whale by touch, but they never swim through the water or surface to the next host,” the center writes.

There are 20 known species of whales, but only one, Cyamus boopis, attracts humpbacks, experts say. Bupis likes bumpy skin near “blows, wounds, around whisker-like shells and in ventral grooves.”

Noyo Center researchers reported on September 12 that “a juvenile male hunchback” washed ashore near downtown Fort Bragg on California’s Mendocino coast. Fort Bragg is about 190 miles northwest of Sacramento.

Investigators have not yet said what caused the 26.5-foot whale’s death.

The center studies stranded marine mammals “with permission from the National Marine Fisheries Service under the Stranding Agreement with the California Academy of Sciences.”

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Mark Price has been a reporter for The Charlotte Observer since 1991, covering topics including schools, crime, immigration, LGBTQ issues, homelessness and nonprofits. He graduated from the University of Memphis with majors in journalism and art history and a minor in geology.