Scientists are proposing that whales who forage in polar waters and migrate to lower latitudes are doing it to maintain healthier skin.
In a research paper in Marine Mammal Science, scientists propose that whales conserve body heat in colder waters by diverting blood flow away from their skin. This leaves the a layer of dead tissue. To prevent heat loss, the whales migrate to warmer water before molting the dead skin.
“I think people have not given skin molt due consideration when it comes to whales, but it is an important physiological need that could be met by migrating to warmer waters,” said Robert Pitman, lead author of the new paper and marine ecologist with Oregon State University’s Marine Mammal Institute. He was formerly with NOAA Fisheries’ Southwest Fisheries Science Center in La Jolla, California.