When we think of whales, hair is not usually something that comes to mind – but most whales and dolphins have some hair when they are born, and certain species keep their hair throughout their life! Most whales have their hair follicles where land-mammals would have whiskers today.
The majority of baleen whales have hair follicles and some, like the humpback whale, still have visible hairs. The bumps on a humpback whale's head are called tubercles and each one contains a hair follicle with a single hair. If you're lucky enough to get close to a humpback you may be able to see them for yourself! The number of hairs that a whale has is small, typically ranging from 30-100 depending on the species.
Toothed whales usually have hair along their snout before they are born and lose them completely shortly after birth. There is one notable exception – the Amazon river dolphin, which has stiff hairs along its snout throughout its life. It is thought that they keep their whiskers to help them search for food in the muddy waters where they live.
It is not entirely clear why whales have hair. It could simply be left over from when their ancestors were land-based mammals. Other theories suggest that since there are many nerves around the hair follicles, they must be used to sense something (perhaps prey or changes in the water). The hair could also be used as a sensory tool to communicate with other whales, especially mothers and calves. There is no definite answer, but as marine research continues to expand and our knowledge grows you never know what discoveries will be made!
All photos were taken by our friends at Special Tours.