Parasites

Parasites are often sighted on the bodies of minke whales. Photos taken by Sea Life Surveys show two species of parasites. The first species of parasite seen is Pennella sp., a large copepod, which embeds its head into the blubber of the whale while its body hangs loose. From a distance these look like black lines. 

On these Northeast  Atlantic minke whales Pennella sp. are usually seen attached along the flank. These parasites have complex life cycles with cetaceans being the hosts for females who feed on the blood and body tissues of the whale. Earlier development and mating of Pennella sp. occurs on cephalopod intermediate hosts.   


These photos reveal that Pennella are the likely cause of the thin white scars that are noted on minke whales. Other photos also show that the site of attachment causes a swelling which may persist after the parasite has dropped off.

The second species of parasite  is a barnacle called Xenobalanus globicipitis which attaches itself to the whale with a star-shaped foot plate and is usually found on the pectoral fins, dorsal fins and tail flukes. 

These parasites strain out plankton from the surrounding water rather than drawing nutrients from the whale. However this parasite is a rare sight on these north Atlantic minke whales, Pennella sp. are much more common

Sea Life Surveys has also photographed whales that have rust coloured areas on their rostrums. Blue whales found in cold waters are often covered with accumulations of diatoms which appear as rust-coloured blotches. The vast majority of diatoms found on whales belong to one species, Cocconeis ceticola

Many of the whales that Sea Life Surveys photograph have white oval scars on them. These gradually fade over time but leave oval indentations. Circular scars have been attributed to lampreys and to cookie-cutter sharks. Lampreys feed by attaching themselves to the skin of fish or mammals, rasping through the skin and sucking out the blood.  

Lampreys are sometimes thought to  cause only circular wounds and scars not oval ones: however, other researchers state that lamprey mouths are oval when in use and so it is feasible that they will cause oval scars. The cookie-cutter shark attaches itself to its prey with its suctorial lips, and then spins to cut out a cookie-shaped plug of flesh from the larger animal.




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