If you love sea creatures, you’re probably fascinated by whales. These massive swimmers amaze us with their size and graceful moves. Whales aren’t like other fish, though.

In fact, they’re not fish at all! You may already know that whales are mammals. Like dolphins and porpoises, whales are aquatic mammals that share some common characteristics with other mammals, like humans.

For example, mammals are warm-blooded and they breathe oxygen from the air. They also give birth to live young and have hair.

If you’re thinking, “Hmm…I’ve never seen a hairy whale before,” you’re not alone. Many people don’t realize that whales have hair. After all, you never see a whale with a comb, do you?

Since whales aren’t furry, you’re probably WONDERing where they have hair. If you’ve ever seen a whale up close, you’ve probably noticed that their skin seems rather smooth and not at all hairy.

Of the over 80 species of whales in the world, only a few have visible hair. Many whales have hair on their bodies before they’re born, but it often goes away shortly after birth.

A few whales have visible hair as adults. For example, the humpback whale has unique bumps on its head. The bumps, which are the size of golf balls, are called tubercles and they contain hair follicles.

Right whales have hair on their chins and upper jaws. Bowhead whales often have hair on their lips, chins, snouts and blowholes. Since whales don’t need hair to keep warm (they have blubber for that!), scientists believe whale hair may serve another purpose, such as sensing things around them or communicating a need to nurse in their young.

Hair isn’t the only thing that can make whale skin bumpy from time to time, though. Normally-smooth whale skin can become bumpy from scratches caused by interactions with other marine animals while feeding.

Marine parasites can also cause skin bumps and discoloration in whales. For example, whales are often seen with whale lice and barnacles attached to their skin. Both whale lice and barnacles are skin parasites. Whale lice are related to skeleton shrimp, while barnacles are related to crabs and lobsters.

If whales rub up against something that removes these creatures, scars on their skin are often left behind. That’s why some whales have a spotted or “mottled” look to their skin. As if these problems weren’t enough, scientists now also believe it’s possible for whales to get sunburned. Due to ozone depletion, whales are being exposed to the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays when they surface to breathe, leading to sunburn and other skin problems!

32 Join the Discussion

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    • Hi there, Aparajita! Thanks so much for letting us know you liked today’s Wonder of the Day®! We think your question about the Indus Civilization would make a GREAT future Wonder of the Day®! WONDERing about ancient civilizations is super FUN! :-)

  1. No! :( I was wrong. Today’s wonder of the day is not about moving. However, I loved today’s wonder! :D I think tomorrow’s wonder of the day is about telling the truth.


    • Hello, TJ! We think it’s AWESOME that you try to guess each next day’s Wonder! It’s ok not be right every time…guessing is the fun part, anyway, because we get to use our Wonder brains! We hope you have a SUPER, WONDER-filled day! :-)

  2. I wonder if the barnacles bugs the whales. Do they feel it? Does it hurt or itch? When I went whale watching, I noticed the whales having bumps on their heads. :-)

    • HOW COOL that you got to go whale watching, Charlie! We think that would be an AMAZING Wonder adventure! It must have been super neat to see the whales up close like that! Thank you for sharing your story with us!

      We’re not sure if the barnacles bother the whales, or if they just “get used” to them being on their skin. We think that learning about pesky creatures like barnacles and other parasites would make for an EXCELLENT future Wonder of the Day®! :-)

  3. I was WONDERing… how do barnacles attach themselves to the whales? Do they hurt the whale?
    I really like the video. It made me happy because the whales were doing awesome tricks? :-)

    • Those whales sure do look happy in that video, don’t they, Helena? We WONDER what it would be like to be a whale and jump out of the water, turn and splash like that…FUN, we bet! We think it is SO GREAT that you and Charlie both WONDER more about barnacles after exploring today’s Wonder of the Day®. We think that would make a SUPER future Wonder and you guys have inspired us to WONDER more about barnacles and other parasites, too! YOU GUYS ROCK! :-)

  4. I like the whale text. After reading it, I did my own search about whale lice and whale barnacles- it was gross but cool. It was gross because I don’t like bugs that much! It was cool because it was cool to see them up close! It was awesome to learn that whale lice eats dead skin and keeps cuts from being infected. Thanks for sharing this wonder!

    • Hi there, Sharky! We’re super proud of you for going on your own quest to find out more information on something you learned in today’s Wonder! That is so AWESOME! Thank you for sharing what you learned about whale lice and barnacles…you helped make today’s Wonder extra AWESOME! :-)

    • That’s a SUPER question, Emily! We will both have to do a bit more WONDERing about why some whales lose hair like that! Thank you for sharing that you enjoyed today’s Wonder…we’re really happy to hear that! :-)

    • That makes us REALLY HAPPY to hear, Darcy! Thanks so much for visiting Wonderopolis today and leaving us a WONDER-filled comment! :-)

    • That’s AWESOME, Abbey! Thanks for letting us know! WONDERing leads to learning and learning makes us smarter! :-)

  5. I’ve never seen a whale in real life, but I did see an orca in the Miami seaquarium, it was awesome. The orca was huge! It made a big splash and the splash took up 6 long rows of people. :-D

    • What a NEAT experience, Carlos! Did you know that an orca is a type of whale, just like cheddar is a type of cheese? We think it’s AWESOME that you saw such a great mammal up close and personal! We bet everyone in the audience clapped after that enormous splash! We are so happy to have you WONDERing with us! :)

    • What a coincidence, Emma– we LOVE whales, too! We are so glad to have you Wondering with us– thanks for joining in the fun! We hope you have a WONDERful day! :)

  6. Hi i’m in Mrs. Caplin’s class. I’m an animal lover. Would you mind explaining to me in simpler terms why whales get bumps the size of golf balls. And I never knew there were under water lice. I didn’t know whales have hair. You’re right it must be hard to see the hair. Then what flabbergasted me most was whales can get sunburnt! Scientists should invent sunscreen for whales. : )

    • WOHOO, we are so happy you commented, Maddy! We think it’s great that you are doing some WONDERing of your own about whales! They are some of the coolest mammals out there! If you have ever had a bump on your arm or your leg and a hair was growing out of it, you’ve seen a hair follicle for yourself. Whales are huge animals, so their hair follicles are much larger– sometimes they are the size of golf balls. If you had golf ball sized follicles all over your body, your skin would be just as bumpy as a whale’s is!

      We hope that made a bit more sense, and we are glad you learned some new things along the way, too! Thanks for thinking up ways to protect whales’ skin– that sunscreen is a great idea! However, we bet whales have come up with some ways to protect themselves in the shade of the ocean! Great work, Maddy11! :)

    • That’s great, Yuling! We’re so glad that you enjoyed our whale Wonder! It’s fun to use our imagination with great Wonder Friends like you! :)

    • Hey there, Savannah! We are glad this Wonder made you smile! The Wonder Friends here at Wonderopolis can’t take credit for finding out that whales are born with hair! Instead, marine biologists and scientists who study the mammals are responsible for knowing the details of these massive creatures! We Wonder if you have checked out our other whale Wonder?

      Wonder #42– How Big is the Biggest Whale? http://wonderopolis.org/wonder/how-big-is-the-biggest-whale/ :)

  7. We liked Sharky’s research, and it sounds like the whale lice help the whale. We want to know if there are other animal relationships like that. We also WONDER if all of the whales that are really big are dark in color.

    • Thanks for WONDERing with us, Sam and Lauren! Did you know that a beneficial (symbiotic) relationship exists in your own bodies? It’s true! Bacteria and other microorganisms exist in our digestive system, helping us digest certain foods and helping our immune system. In return, the microorganisms benefit from the warm, plentiful environment of our gut! :)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • Do all whales have bumpy skin?
  • Do whales have hair?
  • Can whales get sunburned?

Wonder Gallery

Try It Out

Do you think whales with bumpy skin feel self-conscious? Many teenagers with acne often feel embarrassed by skin blemishes. Of course, whales don’t look at themselves in the mirror, so they probably don’t worry about their skin like we humans do!

Skim blemishes and other imperfections are just a normal part of everyone’s life. Everyone has them. Everyone has to deal with skin problems from time to time. When you’re covered in skin, you just have to expect that there are going to be issues with it from time to time.

So don’t worry if you have a skin blemish every now and then. They’re no big deal. If you want to minimize skin problems, though, here are a few things you can do to keep your skin as healthy as possible:

  • Stay clean! Take a shower or a bath regularly. Use soap to clean your skin. Many kids think just water is enough to remove dirt, but some types of dirt and oil can only be removed with soap.
  • Wash your face twice each day with soap and water. Be gentle! Lightly rub your face as you wash it. Scrubbing your face too hard can cause your skin to become irritated.
  • Protect your skin from the sun’s ultraviolet rays. You may like to be tan during the summer, but the sun’s rays can cause skin damage that will last a lifetime. If you’re going to be out in the sun for an extended period of time, use sunscreen. Then, when you’re back inside, make sure to clean up again with soap and water.

Still Wondering

In National Geographic Xpeditions’ Why Do Whales Make Sounds? lesson, children learn about the vocalizations of several whale species and the special calls of different populations of blue whales.

Wonder What’s Next?

Tomorrow’s Wonder of the Day promises to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth!

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