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Whales using seaweed for skin health?  

Whale fin protruding from the ocean surface with seaweed attached

A recent paper published by a team at Griffith University in Australia explores the interaction of baleen whales, particularly humpback whales, with seaweed. The paper provides an overview and assessment of the behaviour of humpback whales with seaweed, noting that more than 100 separate interactions with seaweed have now been recorded.

Whales are increasingly being observed swimming directly into patches of seaweed drifting in the ocean and rolling and rubbing against it. The researchers noted that the seaweed is actively approached and engaged with, and that the contact with seaweed is most common around the rostrum, fins and tail – body parts particularly vulnerable to microbial infection. The research group examined the hypothesis that the behaviour, known as ‘kelping’, may improve the whales skin health by helping to remove bacteria and parasites. Brown seaweeds are known to contain a range of bioactive compounds, including fucoidan and polyphenols, that have been shown to have antibacterial properties. An alternative hypothesis is that the whales are using seaweed for playful interactions that enhance motoric abilities and sensory stimulation.

The full paper, ‘What’s at play: Humpback whales interaction with seaweed is a global phenomenon’, was published in the Journal of Marine Science and Engineering.

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