Diatoms on a blue whale

Blue whale back with diatoms

In one of my recent whale watching posts, there was a photo of a blue whale with some really cool yellow-brown patterns on its back. During the whale watching trip, the naturalist on board explained the pattern was from diatoms, a type of algae that is usually single-celled. But I wanted to find out more!

So I emailed Mark Hildebrand, a researcher at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, who studies diatoms. I sent a photo of the blue whale and asked him for his take…is this pattern caused by diatoms?

He emailed back the following answer: “I wouldn’t be surprised at all if they were diatoms. Some types of diatoms are terrific at sticking to surfaces underwater, and they are one of the predominant biofouling organisms in the oceans. They are especially a problem for ships – I believe that they can reduce speed by up to 5%, hence the use of antifouling paints.”

Who knew…sticky diatoms!

Mark also wrote that he’s working a bit on sticky diatoms and that, “It would be great to get a sample from a whale!”

So if you happen to collect a sticky diatom from a whale, contact Mark

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