Whales and Barnacles Relationship

Whales and Barnacles Relationship

Whales and Barnacles Relationship -: The vast oceans hold secrets beyond our imagination, and one of these remarkable secrets is the unique friendship between whales and barnacles. In this article, we’re going to delve into the incredible world of these unlikely companions and explore the beautiful harmony that exists between them.

Whales and Barnacles Relationship
Whales and Barnacles Relationship

Whales and Barnacles: An Unusual Friendship

Have you ever heard of commensalism? It’s a term that describes a relationship where one species benefits and the other isn’t affected in any way. Whales and barnacles share just such a relationship – one that’s not only fascinating but also incredibly beneficial to both parties.

Meet the Barnacles

Barnacles are small, crustacean creatures that lead a sedentary lifestyle, attaching themselves to hard surfaces like rocks, piers, and even the skin of whales. When barnacles hitch a ride on a whale, they enjoy several perks:

  1. A Free Ride: Barnacles, unlike whales, can’t move around on their own. By attaching themselves to a whale, they get to travel far and wide without expending any energy.
  2. Access to Food: Whales are filter feeders, meaning they swim through plankton-rich waters, providing a constant buffet for their barnacle passengers.
  3. Protection from Predators: Barnacles have a hard shell that shields them from potential threats. Their colonies create a rough surface on the whale’s skin, possibly offering some protection against predators.

Types of Barnacles on Whales

There are two main types of barnacles that call whales home: whale barnacles (Coronula diadema) and cyprid barnacles (Cryptolepas rhachianecti).

  • Whale Barnacles: These are typically found on the backs and sides of whales. They can grow quite large, sometimes reaching several inches in diameter. Their hard, calcareous shells protect them from both predators and the elements.
  • Cyprid Barnacles: In contrast, cyprid barnacles prefer the bellies of whales and are generally smaller with softer shells.

The Barnacle Attachment Process

Barnacles attach themselves to whales by secreting a strong adhesive that bonds them to the whale’s skin. Once secured, they use their tube-shaped appendages to filter plankton and other food particles from the surrounding water. This ingenious adaptation allows barnacles to thrive while hitching a ride on their massive hosts.

A Lifetime on a Whale

Barnacles can live for many years on a single whale. Eventually, they fall off, but not before they’ve produced thousands of larvae that venture off in search of their own whale hosts. This cycle continues, ensuring that barnacles are never far from their vital transportation and food source.

Mutual Benefits

Now, you might wonder: do whales get anything out of this relationship? While it’s not entirely clear whether whales directly benefit from barnacles, there’s evidence to suggest they might receive a helping hand in some unexpected ways.

Firstly, barnacles don’t appear to harm the whales in any significant manner. In fact, the rough surface created by barnacle colonies might serve as a form of protection against predators for the whales. While this isn’t proven, it’s a fascinating possibility.

A Lesson in Ecosystem Interconnectivity

The relationship between whales and barnacles offers a powerful reminder of the intricate interplay of life in the oceans. It illustrates how even the tiniest of creatures can play crucial roles in the ecosystem. Every species, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant, contributes to the delicate balance of life in our oceans.


Whales and barnacles have a unique connection in the vast world of marine life. While barnacles get a free ride, a constant supply of food, and potential protection, whales may also benefit from their crusty companions. This mutual relationship highlights the beauty of nature’s interconnectivity and the mysteries waiting to be unraveled in the depths of the ocean. It’s a story of cooperation and coexistence, reminding us that the ocean’s wonders run deeper than we can imagine. So, the next time you think of barnacles, remember the whales that carry them on an incredible journey through the seas.


What is the symbiotic relationship between a whale and barnacles?

The symbiotic relationship between a whale and barnacles is an example of commensalism. In this relationship, barnacles benefit while the whale is neither harmed nor helped. Barnacles attach themselves to the skin of whales, securing a free ride, access to a continuous food supply, and potential protection.

What do barnacles do with whales?

Barnacles attach themselves to the skin of whales by secreting a strong adhesive. Once attached, they use tube-shaped appendages to filter plankton and other food particles from the water. This way, they feed and travel with the whale, essentially hitching a ride.

Do whales try to remove barnacles?

Whales do not actively try to remove barnacles. In fact, there’s no evidence to suggest that whales are bothered by the presence of barnacles. Some scientists even speculate that the rough surface created by barnacle colonies might provide a form of protection for the whale against predators.

Are barnacles painful for whales?

There’s no evidence to suggest that barnacles are painful for whales. They appear to coexist peacefully with these hitchhiking crustaceans. The relationship between barnacles and whales is more about mutual benefit and protection from the environment rather than causing harm or discomfort to the whale.

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