Toys for Whales
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Migratory baleen whales are not “all work and no play,” the Washington Post reported.
Instead, marine researchers recently observed that the whale group – which includes humpback and gray whales – have a fondness for playing with seaweed as they swim.
For their study, the scientists analyzed aerial observations of the whales and social media posts about them to document more than 160 cetaceans’ interactions with seaweed.
Known as “kelping,” the activity sees the marine mammals finding floating clumps of seaweed, rolling in them and rubbing against them, as well as wrapping the kelp around their fins.
The research team said examples of kelping were recorded off Australia’s east coast and in North America. The unique behavior was present in four distinct humpback whale populations, with researchers noting that adults were more likely to interact with the seaweed than youngsters.
The findings offer some new insights about whales, which were not thought to be particularly playful with objects, unlike dolphins.
Questions still remain about why they do it: The team has theorized that kelping could be a kind of self-care or a playful sensory experience for the marine creatures.
It could also be pure play, which can boost learning and help the large creatures survive in the wild.
The authors say more research on whales’ kelping is necessary, especially given recent, large kelp die-offs that have endangered kelp beds in Australia, California and elsewhere.