Subject: Whale digestion

Phil Clapham (
Tue, 12 Oct 1999 09:28:50 -0400


Interesting idea, but I know of no evidence at all that this is what
these are.  You might run this by Dr John Heyning at the LA County
Museum; he is local to the west coast, is a great
anatomist/physiologist, and also has a good sense of humor.  I've copied
him on this reply.  John?

Phil Clapham

> Guy Santucci wrote:
> Hi, Phil!
> My apologies.  I think I lost the last message I sent, but if you get
> a similar one twice, it's my fault.
> My question is regarding--whale balls. No, I'm not trying to be funny
> here, but I'll explain.  This past summer while walking the beach in
> Oregon, I ran across an elderly couple beachcombing.  I struck up a
> conversation with them and they proceeded to show me what they
> collected.  A few items among their treasures were these spherical,
> baseball to softball sized, conglomerations of what I originally
> thought was small flotsam, cemented together with fibres etc, but the
> rolling action of the waves on the beach.  On closer inspection,
> however, they could be seen to made up of bits of fishing line, twigs,
> pieces of plastic, conifer needles etc. etc.  I was intrigued by the,
> only because I had actually thought of picking a couple up myself.
> When I asked as to what they were the old gentleman was quick to reply
> emphatically "Whale Balls!"  According to him, these spheres of
> detritus were undigested stomach contents coughed up by grey and other
> species of whales that inhabit the west coast. Could he be right?  Are
> these the whale's equivalent to fur balls?  Needless to say, when I
> displayed them at a party recently, they became quite the conversation
> piece.
> Curiously awaiting your reply,
> Guy


Phillip J. Clapham, Ph.D.
Large Whale Biology Program
Northeast Fisheries Science Center
166 Water Street
Woods Hole, MA 02543

tel (508) 495-2316
fax (508) 495-2066