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Fact of the Week

FACT OF THE WEEK: Whales play a crucial role in the carbon cycle

Fact Of The Week

MORE ON THIS: In a previous Fact of the Week, we learned how plankton helps the oceans ‘biological pump’, a process that supports the global carbon cycle by removing carbon from the air and storing it in the deep sea. This week, we’re going to talk about the largest living creatures in the ocean, whales, and their role in the…

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FACT OF THE WEEK: Bio-Fluorescent Coral Flaunts Underwater Light Show

Fact Of The Week

MORE ON THIS: It is easy to see the beauty of coral reefs when snorkeling or diving during the day, but have you ever seen the colors of coral at night? Coral reefs are known to put on a light show known as bio-fluorescence.  A family of proteins provides this fluorescence by absorbing one color…

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FACT OF THE WEEK: Hawaii’s State Mammal is Critically Endangered

Fact Of The Week

MORE ON THIS: To native Hawaiians, this furry creature may be referred to as ‘llioholoikauaua, but you personally know them as Hawaiian monk seals. These monk seals are endemic, meaning they are only found in Hawai‘i. They are one of the most endangered animals in the world, with their population of about 1,100 still declining….

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FACT OF THE WEEK: Hawksbill turtles are nesting on Maui

Fact Of The Week

MORE ON THIS: In Hawai‘i, Hawksbill turtles mostly nest on Hawai‘i Island, but Maui is home to some of the nesting beaches for ten of these turtles.  Beginning around age 20, a female will return to the area where she was born between May and October every 3 to 9 years to lay her eggs. …

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FACT OF THE WEEK: The Name Game

Fact Of The Week

FACT OF THE WEEK: Bottlenose dolphins may address each other by name! MORE ON THIS: Recent research has suggested that bottlenose dolphins have individually unique signature whistles that are equivalent to human names. During the first few months of life, a dolphin will develop its own signature whistle made up of a series of sounds…

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FACT OF THE WEEK: Whale Tale

Fact Of The Week

FACT OF THE WEEK: The underside of a whale’s tail, called the flukes, is not the only characteristic that can be used to photo-identify baleen whales.

MORE ON THIS: You may already know that humpback whales have individually unique tail flukes, like a human fingerprint, and can be identified by photographing these. In addition, each humpback whale also has a unique dorsal fin that allows researchers to track and study individual whales using photo-identification techniques. But did you know that other species of baleen whales are identified using other body parts?

humpback whale fluke (PWF-Hawaii 2013)

Humpback whale flukes. Photographed under NOAA permit # 16479.

Gray whales don’t actually have a dorsal fin; instead they have a series of “knuckles” along their back. Researchers can use the shape of these knuckles, as well as mottling, scarring, and barnacle patterns on the whale’s back to identify individuals.

Grey Whale dorsal ridge - front view. Photo courtesy of Flickr user Minette Layne.

Grey Whale dorsal ridge – front view. Photo courtesy of Flickr user Minette Layne.

Minke whales are identified using nicks or notches in their dorsal fins, or by unusual dorsal fin shape, similar to photo-identification in dolphins. They can also be identified on the basis of lateral body pigmentation.

Minke Whale dorsal fin with notch. Photo courtesy of Stephanie Stack.

Minke Whale dorsal fin with notch. Photo courtesy of Stephanie Stack.

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FACT OF THE WEEK: Can't Touch This

Fact Of The Week

FACT OF THE WEEK: Zoonotic disease Brucellosis found shared between marine mammals and humans.

MORE ON THIS: Zoonotic diseases are those which can be passed between humans and animals. Brucella spp. is the genus of bacteria which causes the zoonotic disease Brucellosis, and can be found in numerous domesticated livestock and wild animals. The Brucella strain in domesticated animals has been eradicated in most industrialized countries, but unfortunately, in developing countries, it is still an issue. The disease has also been found in marine mammals, particularly recorded in dolphins, seals and sea lions. Symptoms in each terrestrial or marine mammal vary, and acquiring the disease can be done by ingesting the bacterium or by touching an open wound.

Spotted dolphin with a lesion

Dolphin with an open wound

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FACT OF THE WEEK: Hitchhikers

Fact Of The Week

FACT OF THE WEEK: Humpback whales are home to three different species of barnacles and one species of whale lice

MORE ON THIS: The relationship between these barnacles and humpback whales is an example of commensalism, where one species benefits and the other is unaffected. The barnacle benefits from this relationship because it is provided with a place to live and filter food. The whale seems to be not affected by this, and might even benefit as well. Humpback whales have been known to roll over when being attacked, so the predator is faced with a tough surface of barnacles instead of soft skin.

Humpback whale with barnacles

Whale lice are highly specialized – each species of whale has its own unique variety of whale lice. Their name is actually a misnomer, because while they look like human lice, they are actually a type of crustacean called cyamids. The relationship between whales and their lice is another example of commensalism, like barnacles. Whale lice feed on algae and whale skin, but there is no evidence that whale lice are harmful to whales.

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