Wonderful Whiskers

cute cat with whiskers
Whose whiskers are you talking about?

Want your weird fact of the day? You got it. Whales are born with whiskers.

Yes, I was slightly shocked when I first read this. Whales are born with whiskers? What the what.

But then I came to realize, as I did some more research and thinking in this little brain of mine, that maybe it wasn’t that strange after all. Like, maybe this was one of those facts that I should have already known. Fair enough.

Because whales are mammals. And all mammals (including us humans) have hair, even if it’s just at the very beginning of life inside the mother’s womb.

You know what that hair is called? Lanugo. I just learned this term, too. And I’m glad I did because it’s fun to say. Le-NYOO-go. See? Fun.

So yeah, whales may be born with a few stray hairs around their snouts, but most lose them pretty quickly. Same with dolphins and porpoises.

white and gray dolphin on blue water
It’s true.

However, the hair follicles still remain. If you look closely on a dolphin’s rostrum (another name for its snout—and another fun word to say), you will probably see some white spots. Those are the follicles. Some species of whales, such as humpbacks, have bigger follicles that look like bumps on their heads. And then there are the marine mammals that keep their hair, like the Amazon river dolphin, also known as the boto.

But why? Well, each hair follicle is surrounded by nerves, which perform a sensory function. The whisker-like hairs around a boto’s snout may help it sense prey or find food at the bottom of the murky rivers and lakes where it lives. The hairs could also help them detect changes in water currents.

And some scientists think the hairs could play a role in social situations. And not just among the botos—but among all dolphin and whale species. For example, calves may rub their soft, downy hairs against their mothers’ bodies to signal that it’s time to feed.

These are just theories, though. More research needs to be done.

In the meantime, I’m just gonna go back to picturing the biggest animal on the planet—the blue whale—with the biggest moustache anyone has ever seen.