What are Whale Lice?

Whale Lice are a tiny external parasite known as Cyamus boopis that live exclusively on Humpback Whales. Naturally we tend to find many little C.boopis happily living on Humpback Whales which is a perfectly normal situation, but when a whales immune system is low or they have open wounds the population of whale lice living on their host can explode. Today we met three Humpback Whales who were all travelling together and with the slightly competitive behaviour amongst two individuals it appeared we had two males and a very special female. Noticing her straight away, the heavy infestation of whale lice indicated not all was well with this Humpback. 

She seemed to be relaxed even though the boys were body blocking each other every so often and trying to get closer to her, she was however focused on keeping to her migration path around Rottnest Island. Extremely thin and easily seeing her shoulder blades it was not nice to see such a beautiful whale looking unwell. The only relief was we could not observe any signs of entanglement, Orca attack or previous vessel strike. The reason for her poor body condition could be many, sometimes internal parasites can be causing the problem when signs of outward injuries or illness are not obvious. She seemed in good spirits and motivated to make her way south which was nice to observe with no labour in her breathing. If she is able to make the journey back to her feeding grounds then a buffet of krill will be waiting for her which could help her regain strength and body condition. The two males who were travelling alongside didn’t appear to be going anywhere so these three Humpback Whales will be able to keep an eye out for each other on this important part of their journey.

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