Join me in the cold, dark, life-sustaining NE Pacific Ocean to discover the great beauty, mystery and fragility hidden there.

Humpback Whale Gooseneck Barnacles?!

Come on a journey of discovery with me – from identifying the very big, to the small. 

I’ll tell my tale of through the images below. 

Fluke BCX1188.

Meet the Humpback Whale BCX1188 nicknamed “Jigger” for the now faint fish-hook shaped scar on his/her right fluke.


Photo: Hildering

When we saw Jigger in 2009, we noted the barnacle growing on the right top of his/her dorsal fin. Such barnacles are a distinct species only found on humpback whales. The Humpback Whale Barnacle is Coronula diadema (to 5 cm tall and 6 cm wide.

This is one of our flank ID shots from 2009. You’ll note that the Humpback Whale Barnacle on Jigger’s dorsal fin is quite hard to see.

BCX1188 right flank 2010

Then, when we saw Jigger in August of 2010, we noted that the dorsal fin looked very different. My research partner from the Marine Education and Research Society, Christie McMillan, and I were worried that it might be an injury so we tried to get a better photo of the dorsal fin.

Here’s what the dorsal fin looked like from the left.  When I had this perspective, I thought that what we were looking at might be seaweed growing on the Humpback Whale Barnacle we had seen the year before (note that the barnacles often do fall off between years).

2010 right flank BCX1188

But, it didn’t quite look like seaweed. With patience and good camera lenses, we got a better look.

closer right flank 2010 BCX1188

What on Earth?! They’re gooseneck barnacles growing on the humpback whale barnacle!

Gooseneck barnacles are an order of barnacles that are attached to a hard surface by a long stalk that looks like a goose’s neck. They depend on the motion of the water to feed on plankton as they do not have the “foot” (cirri) that rakes in plankton in many other barnacle species.

Goose neck barnacles - close

That’s when I learned that there is a species of gooseneck barnacle that, in the North Pacific Ocean, most often grows on the Humpback Whale Barnacle!!! The species is the Humpback Whale Gooseneck Barnacle, Conchoderma auritum (to 11 cm long).

This is the kind of discovery that causes wonder and euphoria in my world.

To be able to identify a Humpback as an individual is already something of great scientific and educational value.

That this attention to an individual whale leads me to learn that there is a species of gooseneck barnacle that grows almost exclusively on a species of barnacle that only grows on Humpback Whales  = sheer wonder.

I can’t wait to find out what else the Humpbacks are going to teach me!

From E-FAUNA BC: ELECTRONIC ATLAS OF THE WILDLIFE OF BRITISH COLUMBIAConchoderma auritum is most often found attached to the shells of Coronula on the humpback whale; sometimes more than fifty are attached to one shell. “Rarely a specimen is found attached to the base of the teeth of an old sperm whale” (Sheffer, 1939). Gordon C. Pike reports finding specimens of C. auritumon sperm and fin whales taken in British Columbia. In each case the barnacles were associated with a deformation or an apathological condition of the jaws, baleen, or teeth. Each barnacle is usually oriented with the opening facing in the direction the whale swims. The food-laden water passes through the opening and over the feeding appendages, then out through the two “ears” which have tubular openings.”

From the Marine Species Identification Portal: Species is “attached to the whale barnacle Coronula diadema and sometimes Coronula reginae. It seems to be a rule that no Coronula is without a Conchoderma. Whether this is a form of symbiosis has been discussed by Broch (1924b). Specimens from northern waters have been taken from humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae ) or from teeth of bottle-nosed whales (Hyperodon spp.). In the Antarctic C. auritum has also been found on baleen plates of whales and on their tails. In tropical and subtropical parts of the oceans it can also be found attached to ships’ hulls and other floating objects, to slow moving fishes or to the tail of a large eel, but never on soft objects.”

Image below from Fertl, Dagmar & Newman, William. (2018). Barnacles.

Additional sources:

Hakai Magazine, November 2021, What Whale Barnacles Know

7 Responses to “Humpback Whale Gooseneck Barnacles?!”

  1. kathy

    How EXTREMELY interesting…..thank you for sharing with us!

    • jackiehildering

      Hello Kathy, I really appreciate the feedback and knowing that the effort in sharing this is worth it since there are people like you who share my fascination with discoveries like this!

  2. Anna

    well, what do you know! We’re in wonder over here too

  3. Carol

    Wow! Talk about having a specific niche. Thanks for sharing such an amazing observation!

  4. jacqui Engel

    Jackie, this is sooooo amazing! I think you also have a specific niche! Who else puts the time and energy into sharing this fascinating stuff… makes me imagine ‘decorator humpback whales’ out there. Nature never ceases to amaze!

  5. Robin

    Hi Jacky,

    Cool about gooseneck barnacle…interesting. Take care, Robin

  6. Sean Williams

    thanks for the great story!
    i enjoyed all the detective work and the photos are spectacular, keep it coming. as far as barnacles go i have patched my wetsuit many times after random “attacks”, but i have a special fondness for the goosenecks ❤


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