Whale Callosities

The Right Whales have a unique appearance unlike any other cetacean with strange, hard patches of skin on their upper and lower jaw known as callosities. It is a distinctive contrast to their beautiful jet black skin which is extremely smooth and sleek. The head of a Southern Right Whale can be a fourth of their entire length giving them a bulldog like appearance. It is on the upper and lower jaw along with an area next to the blowholes that we see these white to cream patches of rough textured skin. The whale callosities we see are very much just like the callouses we can have on our own hands and feet. A big difference is that these rough patches of skin found on the whales host a peculiar creature known as a Cyamus (Whale Lice). The large colonies of whale lice that can be found hanging out on the callosities number in the thousands of individuals. The coloration of the whale lice is reflected in the colours we see on a Southern Right Whales callosities which tend to be cream to yellow in appearance. Whale lice cause no harm to a healthy whale and are a natural feature on many whales and dolphins throughout the world.

Embedded into the callosities are barnacles that seem to adore the Southern Right Whale in particular, their names are Cetopirus complanatus and Tubicinella major. These whitish dotes can be seen spotted throughout the callosity patterns of the Right Whales as they happily live amongst the whale lice with all parasites enjoying a free ride through the Southern Ocean. It is a fascinating life that these lice and barnacles live with their entire survival dependant on that of their host, a healthy and living Southern Right Whale. It is also interesting to see that the location of the callosities is where a beard, eyebrows and nose hair would be found if the whale was a human. The Right Whales are a mammal and still retain tiny hairs along their jawlines with calves especially tending to have more hair than the adults.

The purpose of these whale callosities is not well known, perhaps the rough texture is beneficial in defence from predators such as sharks and Orca. The callosities may also provide protection to touch points on a whales rostrum. During their time feeding, socialising and raising calves there is often much contact between whales and the callosities could prevent these areas from rubbing raw with the consistent friction in that area. The purpose of whale callosities for researchers is a vital way of identifying each individual whale. The otherwise sleek profile of a Southern Right Whale makes it difficult to distinguish them from other individuals. Thankfully, each Right Whale has a unique pattern amongst the callosities that is just like a fingerprint and used to identify each individual whale within a population. Due to the Southern Right Whale still being endangered it is a fantastic way of being able to monitor the growth rate of a population and re-sight known whales in future calving and breeding seasons.