Sun burnt skin is usually only associated with humans. And that is not entirely justified. Research shows that many whales also burn and that the number of cases has escalated in recent years. The thinning ozone layer and thereby increasing ultraviolet radiation is hereby blamed.
The researchers published their results in the magazine Proceedings of the Royal Society B. They are the first to show that sun damage from whales is increasing.
"Whales don't have hair, fur or feathers that can protect them and they have to go to the surface to breathe," explains researcher Karina Acevedo-Whitehouse. "Other animals have changed their behavior - for example, by staying in the shade - but whales can't afford that."
Gulf of California
The researchers took photos of the whale skin and also did some biopsies to determine the damage. They focused on the blue whale, common whale and sperm whale in the Gulf of California. This region is close to the tropical latitude where the risk of skin cancer is no less than five times greater than at more moderate latitudes.
Almost all biopsies and photos showed that there was damage from the sun. Even the lower layers of the skin of the whales were affected. This indicates that the combustion is very serious. The researchers suspect that the problem will only get bigger in the future. They followed a blue whale for this. Although the number of bite prints and other skin problems did not increase in three years, the number of sun damage did.
The scientists conclude that dark whales - for example the common whale and sperm whale - do not burn as quickly as the lighter variant. More pigment can therefore be a form of protection. But it seems that that is not enough to win the battle with the increasing ultraviolet radiation.
The fact that more and more ultraviolet radiation ends up on earth, has to do with the hole in the ozone layer. The ozone layer normally blocks the radiation, but in some places it is considerably thinned out by greenhouse gases. Governments have already taken measures to combat this by reducing emissions of harmful gases. The ozone layer is expected to be restored by 2080. However, that means little good for the whale in the short term.