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 barnacles is Coronula diadema.


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 partner in humpback research 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 most often grows on the humpback whale barnacle!!! The species is Conchoderma auritum.

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!

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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