While trying to study bowhead whale’s feeding habits, Sarah Fortune was able to answers a questions that has been puzzling researchers for years: Why do bowhead whales continue to return to the Cumberland Sound in Canada and why are they constantly rubbing their bodies against rocks?
Well, it turns out they bowhead whales like to exfoliate and rub off dead layers of skin, just like us! Sarah Fortune made this discovery when a whale removed a transmitter, she had attached to track them, while rubbing against a rock. She noticed large pieces of skin coming off the whales’ backs and sides along with the transmitters.
Most whales are believed to shed skin and hair little by little throughout the year, like humans. However, some cold-water whale species are believed to shed as they migrate to warmer areas in the summer. Until Sarah Fortune’s study, very little was known about bowhead whales molting patterns. Although it was believed that they shed in the warmer months like belugas (a cold-water species). This latest discovery, of bowhead whales rubbing against rocks, will help confirm the belief that they shed seasonally. It also helps to explain why bowhead whales are willing swim into much shallower waters; they use rocky shores and big boulders there to exfoliate!