Nature’s Wonder: Pine Needle Balls

In 2015, WLI discovered perfectly formed larch needle balls along a small shoreline reach of Whitefish Lake in about two feet of water. Although balls comprised of organic matter (in this case larch needles) are uncommon, they have been reported worldwide and are often called surf balls or beach balls. Gift shops are known to sell these oddities as whale burps, whale barf balls, whale fur balls and moose balls.

Unique conditions are needed to form these balls. It is suspected that they are formed from surf action along the shoreline where as waves approach; they drag on the lake bottom, causing the wave crest to curl and crash onto the beach. The curling action may roll materials into a ball. However, the balls found in 2015 were within five feet on one another, suggesting other specific local conditions. These unique creations from Mother Nature are on display at the Whitefish Lake Institute office in Whitefish. Pine balls from Lindbergh Lake can be found at the Stumptown Historical Society in Whitefish, and from Kintla Lake at the Polebridge Mercantile in Polebridge.

Pineballs. Photo courtesy Whitefish Lake Institute