Suckerfish seen “surfing” blue whales in world-first underwater footage

Famed for their ability to latch onto larger marine animals via powerful suction cups on their heads, remora are small fish that have long fascinated scientists for the ways they seek transport and protection. A new study has delved into this behavior in unprecedented detail, producing the first-ever continuous recordings of these so-called suckerfish in action, showing how they surf, feed and even socialize on the surface of a blue whale.

Though scientists have studied remoras for some time and made discoveries that could lead to advanced suction cups and adhesives, our knowledge of their underwater behavior has been limited by, well, the fact that it takes place underwater. Still images and anecdotal evidence has surfaced of the fish’s unique sticking behavior, which often involves latching onto sharks for a free ride and the possibility of some leftover crumbs, but now an international research team has gone in for a much closer look.

The researchers were actually studying the fluid dynamics of blue whales off the coast of California using biosensing tags and dual cameras, which were attached to the marine mammals with a set of suction disks. These tags were used to gather information on the surface pressures and fluid forces as the whales moved through the water, along with things like their GPS location and traveling speeds, while the cameras recorded all the action at 720p resolution. Then the remoras jumped on for the ride.

Here is some of that footage:

The team’s work captured 27 remoras at 61 different locations on the whales, but revealed that most of the time they traveled between three spots that were favorable for drag resistance; behind the blowhole, alongside or behind the dorsal fin, and the flank above the pectoral fin. Reasons to move around include feeding and even socializing, according to the team.

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