Humpback whales carry a variety of free-loading parasites, including barnacles and lice. Indeed, an adult Humpback can carry nearly half a tonne of barnacles! The whale barnacles (Coronula diadema) prefer areas of the body where water flow is constant, such as the head and lips, and will walk around until they find the best area to attach to the whale. Researchers speculate that the larvae attach during the whales’ breeding season in warm, tropical waters. The larvae can survive for several weeks waiting for a whale to swim past. The larvae respond to chemical signals to then attach to the whale.
Humpback whale lice are pale, orange-red colored spidery parasitic animals which feed on the humpback’s skin. These tiny crustaceans are cyamids, belonging to the family Cyamidae. The humpback carries a unique species of whale lice, Cyamus boopis, which survives only on Humpback whales, and attaches with ten strong legs. The lice are found in places that are protected from water currents, such as skin lesions, genital folds, nostrils and eyes.