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

Posts tagged ‘humpback comeback’

Thank Goodness for Second Chances . . . .

It’s Canadian Thanksgiving and I am overwhelmed with depth of gratitude and purpose.

It is an extraordinary privilege to be able to live the life I do and I want so much for it to count.

Thank you dear readers for helping to amplify the beauty, mystery and fragility into the world so that there may be more understanding that there is no divide between land and sea and how our daily actions regarding chemical and energy use connect us – no matter how far away from this place you are.

The photo below is from two days ago – “Frosty” the Humpback Whale in Johnstone Strait, NE Vancouver Island.

To think we could have lost these glorious, majestic, mysterious, winged, singing, acrobatic ambassadors of our life-sustaining seas . . . .

Thank goodness for second chances.

Frosty the Humpback Whale (BCX1187) in Johnstone Strait, October 11, 2014. Just outside Telegraph Cove. Blinkhorn Light in the background. ©Jackie Hildering.

Frosty the Humpback Whale (BCX1187) in Johnstone Strait, October 11, 2014. Just outside Telegraph Cove. Blinkhorn Light in the background. ©Jackie Hildering.

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. 

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

Jigger in 2008. Photo ©Martin Burri.

When we saw Jigger in 2009, we noted the barnacle growing on the right top of 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.

Jigger in 2009. Photo ©Jackie Hildering.
Humpback Whale Barnacle Cornula diadema.

Then, when we saw Jigger in August of 2010, we noted that her 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 behind (photo taken with a telephoto lens and cropped)  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).

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

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.

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, also known as the Rabbit-eared Whale 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!

Image from Fertl, Dagmar & Newman, William. (2018). Barnacles.
Update: January 2022.
Oh and by the way, when Jigger returned to the feeding grounds around northeastern Vancouver Island the next year, she did not have the two barnacle species on her dorsal fin. But she did have . . . a calf. The calf is “Quartz” and has returned to northeast Vancouver Island every year from 2011 to 2021.

From our Marine Education and Research post from January 2022:
There are two species here on Dapple’s chin and these barnacle species are very often also on the tips of Humpback Whales’ tails.

1) The big, round barnacles are “Humpback Whale Barnacles” (Coronula diadema to 5 cm tall and 6 cm wide) and they ONLY grow on Humpbacks. When they fall off, they leave those round white marks. The barnacles that grow on Grey Whales are a different species that ONLY grow on Grey Whales (Cryptolepas rhachianecti).

2) Growing atop the Humpback Whale Barnacles are “Humpback Whale Gooseneck Barnacles” (Conchoderma auritum to 11 cm long) aka “The Rabbit-Eared Gooseneck Barnacle” which, in the North Pacific Ocean, MOST OFTEN ONLY GROW ON TOP of Humpback Whale Barnacles! There can be up to 50 Humpback Whale Gooseneck Barnacles on one Humpback Whale Barnacle and each gooseneck barnacle is usually oriented with the opening facing the direction the whale swims allowing for better feeding on plankton. (Source: EFauna BC). With that long, fleshy “neck” it certainly is clear why they are called GOOSENECK barnacles.

That’s two layers of specificity made all the more thought-provoking when you realize that barnacles start off as plankton drifting in the ocean, attach to the correct surface, and then grow a shell.
The amount and position of these barnacle species can change quickly. For example, there were no Humpback Whale Gooseneck Barnacles to be seen on Dapple’s chin on August 18th but there they are by September 25th. Thereby, barnacles often cannot help identify individual Humpbacks between years but . . those scars from Humpback Whale Barnacles DO persist.

Please know that barnacles are NOT thought to be a hinderance to the whales. It is believed that there’s symbiosis. The barnacle species have good positioning to feed on plankton and the Humpback Whale and Grey Whale Barnacles are believed to offer defence to these slower moving big baleen whales. Grey Whales and Humpback Whales are built for fight rather than flight from mammal-hunting Orca (Bigg’s Killer Whales) and will posture, trumpet and lash out. The barnacles are likely also of use when the males fight for females in the breeding grounds. Hey, when you don’t have teeth, it helps to have something similar to brass knuckles. 🙂

More detail

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.”
From Mike Horan (pers. com January 2022) “I have also seen the stalked barnacle [Conchoderma auritum] on Bottlenosed Dolphins during the die off of 1987 in New Jersey.”

Excerpt from Hakai Magazine’s What Whale Barnacles Know” (November 2021)

“Individual whales have been known to collect up to 450 kilograms of barnacles. That’s an enormous mass, but relative to a 30-tonne humpback, it would weigh only about as much as an extra layer of clothes. And as far as scientists can tell, the hangers-on don’t particularly bother a healthy whale. They may slightly increase drag as the whale swims, but they may also be helpful as a set of brass knuckles when adult males battle each other over the chance to mate [and when dealing with mammal-hunting Bigg’s Killer Whales]

Here’s what we don’t know about whale barnacles, at least with any certainty: just about everything else. Like, how do their larvae, no bigger than a grain of salt, find a migratory whale to grab onto in the first place? Once they locate one, how do they navigate around its gargantuan body—hundreds of thousands of times larger than theirs—to find their permanent homestead? “It just seems preposterous,” says John Zardus, a marine biologist at the Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina. He specializes in studying barnacles that live on other living things.

Studying those symbiotic barnacles that live on sea turtles, dolphins, crabs, and other marine animals has given Zardus some idea of how whale barnacles might hack it. Adults mate on the whale, but rather than take their chances during their host’s oceanic migrations, they likely wait to release their larvae until the whales gather in coastal areas to breed. The larvae then go through several developmental stages, which can take up to two weeks, before they’re ready to settle. “It’s not like the larva is being released from a whale and it’s going to [immediately] attach to the whale next door,” Zardus says.

When a larva is ready, a chemical signal is most likely what tips it off that it’s in the presence of whale skin. This could be a pheromone emitted by already settled adult barnacles—a strategy commonly used by other barnacle species—or it could be some molecule that wafts off the surface of the skin itself. If other barnacles are any indication, the larva probably reaches out with its sensitive antennules to familiarize itself with the epidermis. It squeezes a drop of sticky polymer out of one antennule to adhere itself temporarily, then sticks down a second antennule and releases the first one, swinging it over to another spot. By repeating this process, a larva “ends up walking around on the surface, leaving little gluey footprints,” says Zardus. “These larvae can possibly crawl all over the host until they find the right location where they want to be.”

Where they want to be is generally on the whale’s forehead, its tail, or the leading edges of its flippers. Those are the places on a whale’s body that water flows over most efficiently. That gives the barnacle a front-row seat when the whale swims through a cloud of plankton, which the barnacle also gets to eat. When the larva finds a good place to settle down, it exudes a stronger glue onto the skin and cements itself for the rest of its life, which may last about one to three years.

Much of this is informed speculation, Zardus stresses, because living whale barnacles and their larvae are extremely hard to come by. Collecting them from a living whale is out of the question, since it would require cutting into the whale’s flesh. A dead whale that washes up has to be discovered before its barnacles die of hunger, desiccation, or predation . . ..

Other than whale barnacles, nothing else reliably recorded the month-to-month movements of ancient whales, says Taylor. Bone tissue doesn’t care about the chemistry of the water it grew in; baleen does, but it’s hardly ever fossilized. But a well-preserved whale barnacle is the perfect time-traveling tracking device. “We won’t be able to tell you, ‘This whale hung a left at Malibu,’” says Taylor, “but [we can] get a general sense of where animals might have been moving.” . . .

Jigger bulking up before the migration, near Sayward in British Columbia, in November 2021.


Hakai Magazine, November 2021, What Whale Barnacles Know

Mike Severns, The Life and Times of a Humpback Whale Barnacle

Würsig, Bernd G., J. G. M. Thewissen, and Kit M. Kovacs. 2018. Encyclopedia of marine mammals. Chapter: Barnacles.

Source: The Ocean World by Sam Hinton

The Humans Behind “Humpback Comeback”

Update: See this link for the results of the Humpback Comeback Project in the AVIVA competition.


With just a few more days left to vote for the “Humpback Comeback” Project in the AVIVA Community Fund’s competition, I feel I need to crack.

I need to crack and respond to the many questions about who “we” are, the humans behind the Humpback Comeback Project.

We haven’t wanted to answer because of course, it isn’t a comfortable thing to put yourself “out there”; it’s been a broad community effort where we can’t mention everybody involved and; we didn’t want to detract from what the Project is about  – the whales and understanding the risk of entanglement.

But with all the remarkable support the Project has received, I feel we owe you.  Maybe too, in revealing the human element, the dedication behind the Project will be even more apparent and you’ll know all the more that your votes have been well invested.

So who are we, the volunteer effort behind the Humpback Comeback Project?  Below I include the biographies provided in our submission to the AVIVA Community Fund competition. Please realize that the information was written with the purpose of relaying our commitment to the Project and to our community. Self-promotion is difficult and awkward but the we did it to help the chance of success in the funding competition.

In complete self-mockery, we also include photos of ourselves so you can see the human faces behind Humpback Comeback. The photos were taken when we were out looking for humpbacks last week, on the cold Northeast Pacific. We recognize that the photos wouldn’t serve us well on Plenty of Fish but that’s not their purpose . .. for us, it’s about plenty of whales!

Please know too that there are so many more who have contributed time, resources and sightings – local whale watching companies (e.g. Stubbs Island Whale Watching began the data collection effort); Dr. Alexandra Morton (shared all the humpback data she had collected since the 1980s); our fellow members of the Marine Education and Research Society (Caitlin Birdsall, Leah Thorpe and Heidi Krajewsky) and many more from Northern Vancouver Island, B.C., Canada.

Thank you so much for caring and for your support.

Vote #5773!

Chrisite McMillan. Vote 5 . . .


Christie McMillan (Alert Bay, B.C.) has spent two years as a Humpback Whale Studies Research Assistant and member of the Atlantic Large Whale Disentanglement Network at the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies in Cape Cod, Massachusetts.  Working with some of the world’s experts in entanglement research and humpback whale biology, she has gained skills and expertise in both of these fields.  She has also worked as a Cetacean Research Technician for Fisheries and Oceans Canada, and an environmental educator and Naturalist for various non-profit and eco-tourism organizations.  She has played a key role in collecting, processing, and analyzing our humpback whale data since 2005.

Jared Towers. Vote 7, 7 . . .


Jared Towers (Alert Bay, B.C.) is a Cetacean Research Technician with Fisheries and Oceans Canada, and has been operating boats and studying wild whales off the coast of British Columbia for the past 23 years.  He also is the Founder and Past President of the North Island Marine Mammal Stewardship Association, an organization dedicated to finding the balance between sustainable eco-tourism and marine mammal conservation.  He is a skilled researcher, educator, and Captain, having worked in locations all over British Columbia, as well as in Mexico and Antarctica. He has been involved in our humpback whale research for the past 7 years.

Yours truly. Jackie Hildering. Vote 3 . . . Vote #5773!


Jackie Hildering (Port McNeill, B.C.) has been collecting and processing our humpback whale data for 7 years.  She is a highly respected marine educator with a very strong connection to the local community. She has worked as a marine naturalist for 12 years; was Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s Education Coordinator for 7 years; runs a Young Naturalist Club; is President of the local dive club; and works for the SOS Marine Conservation Foundation.

Her role in the community is further evident in the local recognition she has received.  This includes:

  • 2010 winner of the Vancouver Aquarium’s Murray A. Newman Award for Excellence in Aquatic Conservation.
  • Recognition from Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s Director of Oceans, Habitat and Enhancement for “contribution to the preservation and enhancement of the salmonid resource  . . . helping ensure a better future for all Canadians” (June 2010)
  • Professional Merit Award – Port McNeill & District Chamber of Commerce (2009)
  • LiveSmart BC “Community Hero” (Oct 2008)
  • One of the top 3 nominees for the “Free the Children” Society’s “Me to We Awards” in the educator category (2007)

Humpback Comeback Project – Worth the Vote

Update: See this link for the results of the Humpback Comeback Project in the AVIVA competition.


In recognition of how important the information was to our Humpback Comeback Project, Jim Borrowman provided us with his photos of a humpback whale entanglement dating back to September 23rd, 1994. This was a time when it was very rare to see humpbacks around N. Vancouver Island (B.C., CANADA) since they had been whaled intensely into the 1950s.

I include one of these images below but be warned that it is very upsetting.  I share it with you as it shows how devastating the threat of getting entangled in fishing gear can be. The photo provides insight into how necessary research into the threat of entanglement is and  . . . how valuable your voting is for the Humpback Comeback Project. (Please click here to place your daily vote so that $25K could be won for humpback entanglement research).

Christie McMillan (colleague in the Project who has expertise in judging the severity of entanglement injuries), concluded that the whale must have been entangled for a considerable time before these images were taken. The evidence of this is that the whale is very thin (emaciated) and its skin condition is very poor, being heavily covered in cyamids (whale lice).

Whale with severe entanglement injuries, 1994. Photo by Jim Borrowman; Stubbs Island Whale Watching;


Jim Borrowman, Mike Durban and Dave Towers worked together and succeeded in freeing this whale from the lines. This heroic effort served as the inspiration for the children’s book “The Rescue of Nanoose” by Mary Borrowman and Chloe O’Loughlin; illustrated by Jacqueline Wang.

More, larger photos showing the severity of this entanglement at this link.

If you need more background on how to vote for the Humpback Comeback Project , please click here.

“Idol” for Humpbacks – Vote #5773

Update: See this link for the results of the Humpback Comeback Project in the AVIVA competition.


Ready Team?

If you are reading this it is because you likely care enough to take one minute a day (to 9 AM Pacific, December 15, 2010), to help British Columbia’s humpbacks.

$25,000 for humpback entanglement research is at stake. Our “Humpback Comeback Project” has made the final round of voting in the AVIVA Community Fund and will need your votes to successfully compete “Idol style” against projects supported by the population base of urban Ontario.

How to help?

  • Register at this link if you have not yet had the opportunity to do so  (then click the link in the email that will be sent to you).
  • Spread the word any way you can . Our huge thanks to those who have Tweeted, Facebooked, forwarded these email bulletins, made posters and helped us get radio and print interviews. Your support has not only landed the Project in the final voting round, it has been deeply inspirational.

    "Arial" (BCY0767); known to us to be 3-years-old; born to "Houdini"( BCX0022); and having very strong fidelity to the area. Image: Hildering

    Whale-sized thanks indeed.

    Jackie Hildering
    Marine Educator / Biologist

If you would like a daily reminder, I would be very happy to provide you with one. Please click here.

If you would like to follow along on Facebook, join at this link.

For knowledge of just how bad the threat of entanglement can be, please see the images at the postings here.

Please note that your minute of voting a day supports the effort invested by myself and others who have volunteered their own resources for up to seven years to catalogue the return of the humpbacks and strive to understand the threats to them.

We will continue to volunteer our data collection time but can not carry out this extended study without financial support.

Looks Like We Made It – Humpback Comeback Project

Update: See this link for the results of the Humpback Comeback Project in the AVIVA competition.


Thank you so much!

Our  small, Northern Vancouver Island project has withstood whale-sized odds and, with your continued support, may now win $25,000 for humpback conservation research.

The Humpback Comeback Project competed against community projects from across Canada in the AVIVA Community Fund’s contest that operates very much like an “Idol” for charities.

So many people voted for Humpback Comeback that it has advanced to the final round of the voting, finishing in the top 30 of 528 projects in the funding category.  But now the going gets really tough since our Project is up against many (wonderful) community projects that are championed by large population bases in urban Ontario.

Our Project may not originate from a densely populated area, but the community of people who recognize the importance of this research is very large indeed.

So, please, in true Idol style, from December 2nd to 15th,  click here to find out how to vote for the Humpback Comeback Project, #5773!

You have one vote a day for ten days in this time period.

Please too could you promote the Project by sharing this blog item with your social networks? Demanding, I know – but a great deal is at stake.


BCY0710 "Twister" who was entangled in prawn trap lines and anchored to the bottom, twice in a 3 week period in 2009 (May 18th and June 10th). Photo: Jared Towers.


If you would like a daily reminder, I would be very happy to provide you with one. Please click here.

If you would like to follow along on Facebook, join at this link.

If you’ve not registered in the prior round of voting, you will have to do so and then click the link that gets sent to you in an email.

Click here for the direct link to the Project.

After the final voting round, a jury will decide which of the top scoring Projects will be funded.

What a SPLASH it would create if this included the Humpback Comeback Project!

From team MERS – again, thank you so much.

Humpback Comeback Project – Please Vote!

Update: See this link for the results of the Humpback Comeback Project in the AVIVA competition.


I have a whale-sized favour to ask . . . I need your votes.

To be exact, I need one vote a day for the next 10 days and your support in spreading the word to generate more votes for our “Humpback Comeback” research project.

It is of huge importance to me and the others in our small group of dedicated whale researchers on the Northern Vancouver Island (British Columbia) who, for the past 7 years, have been using our own boats, fuel, and equipment to try to learn more about humpbacks.

We have a chance of getting support through the Aviva Community Fund for an essential study to determine the rate of entanglement of humpbacks in B.C.  (whales getting caught in fishing gear). In a well-studied area of the North Atlantic ocean, about 75% of humpback whales have been tangled up in fishing gear at some point in their lives but there has been very little research into this threat to humpbacks in British Columbia.

Our motivation for this project is a direct result of what we have observed locally. See below for a very recent example of the severity of entanglement injury to a local humpback. The shocking images are of the before-and-after-entanglement of a whale we have nicknamed “Sharktooth” (no DFO catalogue number yet).

Please start voting today and up to November 26th, so that we might move on to the semi-finals.

Everyone has 10 votes (one vote a day), and you can vote for the same idea all 10 times.

So use your votes, tell your friends, and use Facebook or other social networks to spread the word! Please.

You need to register to vote at this link.

Then, please click the link in the email that is sent to you. You can then vote for the “Humpback Comeback Project” every day by clicking here.

Great thanks.

"Sharktooth" on June 20, 2010 - no injuries. Photo: Jackie Hildering. Click to enlarge.

"Sharktooth" on October 2nd, 2010 - with entanglement scarring. Photo: Bruce Paterson. Click to enlarge.

"Sharktooth" on October 2nd, 2010 - with entanglement scarring. Photo: Bruce Paterson.

"Sharktooth" on October 2nd, 2010 - with entanglement scarring. Photo: Bruce Paterson.