Turns out dolphins have skincare routines, too

3 mins
20 May 2022
Turns out dolphins have skincare routines, too

Scientists found that dolphins in the red sea rub have an exfoliating and antibacterial regime

words Jack Ramage

You thought a skincare routine was a human-only necessity? Think again. A new study by a team of wildlife biologists from the University of Zurich has shown that dolphins are using coral as a ‘face scrub’ to ward off pathogens that cause disease.

The team has been surveying a community of 360 Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins in the Red Sea since 2009. Their observations show that not, only would dolphins use the coral to help their skin, but they’d also form an orderly line – queuing up nose-to-tail to take turns on the coral. They would also keep to a strict skincare routine, rubbing themselves against the corals as soon as they wake up and right before they go to sleep… I envy their consistency.


Why do dolphins need a skin care routine?

Due to their thick, smooth and resilient skin, dolphins can be prone to yeast and bacterial – as well as scars caused by viral pox infections. The new research suggests that dolphins are using the readily available coral to promote healthier skin.

“It’s very intensive,” Angela Ziltener told The Guardian, recalling her experience observing the dolphins, as one of the study's leading authors one of the study’s lead authors. “They don’t just go through [the coral] – they go up, they come back down again and they rub their belly, their ventral area and the back.”

During their research, the team also observed that the dolphins would meticulously choose and repeatedly return to the same coral species – suggesting they knew which type of coral was better for their skin.

This hypothesis was affirmed when the scientists ran samples on the corals chosen by the dolphin, revealing at least 17 different bioactive metabolites with antibacterial, antioxidative and oestrogen-like hormonal properties – all of which are beneficial for a dolphin’s skin!

The new findings have received a widely positive reception from the scientific community. Michael Huffman, from Kyoto University who has studied primate self-medication since the 1980s said that this study was “very valuable work” in understanding how dolphins (and other marine species) interact in the wild. Speaking with Science he noted, “I’ve long awaited a really solid study of self-medication in a marine animal species.”

“If you think about it, they have no other options. If they have a problem with the skin, what can they do?” Gertrud Morlock, from Jestus Leibig University Geissen, Germany, and another lead author of the study, told The Guardian. “If the dolphins have a skin infection, these compounds could have something like a healing property.”

Pollution, fishing and global warming are putting dolphins are risk

This study, once again, goes to prove the importance of protecting these fascinating and intelligent creators. Like pretty much all things in life, the neglectful actions of humans are putting dolphins, as well as other precious forms of marine life, in danger.

Despite, the Encyclopedia of Life ranking the bottlenose dolphin as “least concern” regarding their risk of endangerment, the nonprofit International Union for the Conservation of Nature – which maintains a worldwide “Red List” of at-risk wildlife species – considers 36 of the world’s 40 different dolphin species to be in trouble.

The cause? You guessed it: widespread and constant forms of human-driven pollution. For instance, the run-off of agricultural and industrial chemicals into rivers that drain into coastal areas is having a detrimental impact on the species – poisoning the dolphins and causing reproductive problems. Dolphins are also falling victim to the unethical fishing industry, as well as rising sea temperatures.

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