Subject: hair on whales

Caroline Margaret Delong (delong@hawaii.edu)
Tue, 20 Apr 1999 20:49:25 -1000

On Mon, 19 Apr 1999, Cathy Priest wrote:

> Do whales have hair?  If so, is it like the hair of other mammals?  Has
> there been any research done on this subject?
> 				Thanks, Jennifer Priest
> 

Dear Jennifer,
Some whales do have hair. For example, the right whale has hairs along the
chin and upper jaw; the bowhead whale has hair follicles on the snout,
lips, and chin, and behind the blowhole; and young whales of some species
have hairs around their snout.  The hair may serve as tactile organs in a
social or sexual context.

Land mammals have hair because it provides insulation so they can maintain a 
stable body-core temperature (a coat of hair or fur keeps them warm).
But since whales live in the water, hair or fur would drag them down
as they swam (imagine trying to go swimming with a fur coat on- you
wouldn't go very fast!). So whales solve the problem of maintaining a
stable body-core temperature (as all warm-blooded creatures must) with a
thick layer of blubber (fat) around their body. Hairs on whales are
presumably vestigial characters in the evolution of Cetaceans (in other
words, hairs are structures that performed a useful function earlier in
the evolution of whales- before they became aquatic species). 

For more specific and recent information on whale hair and its structure
and function, try searching a database in your library like Biological
Abstracts using the keywords "whale" and "hair." 

Aloha,
Caroline