Some spas have a saltwater pool, but this is next-level.
Scientists researching humpback whales off of Australia’s Gold Coast found that the large marine mammals were drawn to a sandy, shallow area of the ocean floor where they appeared to be removing dead skin. A news release from Australia’s Griffith University, whose researchers led the study, likened the process to visiting a “day spa.”
The scientists made the discovery after affixing tracking tags to three humpback whales. The tags could take video (a little Or-whalian if you ask us) as the animals migrated south between August 2021 and October 2022. The video footage they got revealed both tagged and untagged whales rolling around on the sandy sea bottom on multiple occasions.
“They were doing these bizarre rolls, going fully on their back and on their side,” Griffith University marine ecologist and lead study author Dr. Olaf Meynecke told The Australian Associated Press.
The researchers believe the whales were treating themselves to a bit of exfoliation.
“You could actually see the skin flying off,” Meynecke said. “And then fish would come in and eat it. The fish were also picking skin off the whale, not just the floating skin.” He added that the rolling sessions all took place in the same general area off the coast of Main Beach in Queensland.
In the study, published in the March edition of the Journal of Marine Science and Engineering, researchers addressed “the possibility” that the tagged whales rolling around were attempting to remove their tags. However, they said this was unlikely because tagged and untagged whales were seen exhibiting the same behavior. On top of that, the sand rolling “did not target” the places where the tags had been placed.
They suspect that in addition to dead skin, the whales were removing barnacles. In warmer waters, barnacles often attach themselves to the whales’ skin. If they aren’t periodically removed, the sticky crustaceans can grow and make it harder for the humpbacks to move freely.
Meynecke told the AAP that for some whales, the sand rolls appeared to be a social occasion.
“We had two whales that were swimming with each other for several hours,” he said. “They clearly had a very good relationship, and they were both rolling on the ground together and having a great time.”