Humpback Whale Instigates Object Play with a Lion’s Mane Jellyfish

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Cetaceans are well-known for their intelligence, charismatic nature, and curiosity. Many species, particularly odontocetes, are known to investigate and manipulate novel objects they encounter. Yet, disentangling the drivers of these behaviors and distinguishing between those that are simply playful and those which serve a specific function remains challenging due to a lack of direct observations and detailed descriptions of behaviors. This is particularly true for mysticetes such as humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae), as records of object use are far less common than in odontocetes. Here, we present evidence of novel object use from a first of its kind encounter between an individual humpback whale and a large lion’s mane jellyfish (Cyanea capillata) in the coastal waters off New England. We detail the interaction and discuss possible drivers for the behavior, with a focus on cetacean innovation, ectoparasite removal, and wound healing.



humpback whale, innovation, lion’s mane jellyfish, object use, cetacean


Shea, B.D.; Gallagher, A.J. Humpback Whale Instigates Object Play with a Lion’s Mane Jellyfish. Oceans 2021, 2, 386-392.