Saturday, January 14, 2012

Snow and Whale Barnacles

I rode the bus in to school this morning to get some work done. About 3/4 of the way there I started to see some slushy snow mixed in with the rain and started to wonder if I had made a bad decision relying on public transportation to get me home. Approximately one minute after I got off the bus it started to snow HARD. I seriously considered turning around and getting on the next bus home before the roads turned into a disaster zone. But, I had some things that REALLY needed to be done that were much easier done in a computer lab with big monitors, lots of space, and comfortable chairs than at home. After two trips to the library in the heavy slushy snow (on the first attempt it wasn't open yet - 1pm, really UW?), I was surprised when I went outside around 4 to go over to my lab that the sun was out and a most of the snow had melted. Ryan picked me up from school this evening, but even if he hadn't the bus ride would have been fine.

Most of what I was doing at school today was wrapping up some analysis I did on the Mikt'sqaq Angayuk faunal assemblage from the Alutiiq Museum's excavation in 2009 (I dug at the site in 2010, but I analyzed the fauna from the excavation that Patrick and Amy M. conducted the summer before). The focus of their excavation was on a historic component from about 1830 - the Russian period in Kodiak. One of the cool things about he collection of fauna I looked at was the presence of whale barnacles.

Humpback whale barnacles

Whale barnacles are a family of barnacles that only live on baleen whales. They have a free floating larval stage and then attach themselves to a whale's skin before they become adults. So, even though I didn't find any whale bones in the samples, we know that people were eating whale meat! I did a little research on whale barnacles on the internet (where else?) and found out that each species is specific to a species of whale. So, if you can identify the species of barnacle, you know what type of whale it came from. Seems simple enough, but surprisingly there is little else about whale barnacles on the internet. And I wasn't sure what sort of faunal identification book would include whale barnacles. When I'm stumped on a zoological question like this, I have a go-to-person, Mike, a walking zoological/zooarchaeological encyclopedia, who I can ask for advice. He suggested a book on faunal analysis from a site in British Columbia which had photos of whale barnacles. After I checked out the book, I looked through the references and found a guide to barnacle identification in B.C. which had drawings of both grey whale and humpback whale barnacles.

I was not able to identify my barnacles to species, but I was able to narrow them down to one of two species (Coronula reginae or Coronula diadema - I think these are more likely diadema, but I couldn't positively ID them without a comparative collection). Both live (almost) exclusively on humpback whales. So even though I couldn't identify the species, the important thing is that I know there was humpback whale meat at the site. Pretty cool!

1 comment:

  1. (some of) The barnacles on the photo are possibly C. reginae. Contrary to C. diadema, C. reginae is dome-shaped (and therefore rather flat; about 2 cm high) in stead of barrel shaped and the basal border is not curved inward. The striation on the ribs is generally fine, while the striation is rough on C. diadema (especially basally). However, the ribs of C. diadema are rounded (as is the case on the photo) and c. diadema is much more abundant than C. reginae. A lateral view would be helpfull. moreover it is not clear whether c. reginae is a genuine separate species.

    Mark Bosselaers