Dolphins rub up against corals

what does a bottlenose dolphin do if it has a skin condition? It has a curious way of treating its condition. A study in ‘iScience’ describes the process. The dolphins rub themselves with the corals on the seabed to heal.

Dolphins rub up against corals for health reasons.
Dolphins rub up against corals for health reasons.

Marine medicine

Angela Ziltener is a wildlife biologist at the University of Zurich, Switzerland. Years ago she found a group of dolphins rubbing against coral in the northern Red Sea. They were selective about which corals they rubbed against. Why?

Because Ziltener is a scuba diver, she was able to study the dolphins closely. She soon identified the corals with which the dolphins rubbed. She discovered that by shaking them, the corals released mucus. What properties would it contain? For this, the team collected samples of the coral.

They found 17 active metabolites with antibacterial, antioxidant, hormonal and toxic activities. Mucus from corals and sponges serves to regulate the microbiome of the dolphins’ skin. This is how they treat their infections. “Repeated rubbing allows active metabolites to come into contact with the dolphins’ skin.” they explain. “It would be useful for prophylaxis or ancillary treatment against microbial infections.”

Tourists are increasingly looking to have contact with dolphins.
Tourists seek to have more and more contact with dolphins.

Dangers of tourism

Coral reefs are important places for local dolphin populations. They go there to rest and play. Between naps, dolphins often wake up to perform coral rubbing behavior. “It’s almost showering, cleaning themselves before going to sleep or waking up,” they say.

Since he began researching dolphins in Egypt in 2009, Ziltener has noticed a disturbing trend. “The tourism industry makes a lot of money now from swimming with dolphins. They find out which reefs they use and disturb the dolphins,” she says. For this reason, he has formed Dolphin Watch Alliance. It is a conservation group that educates tour guides, tourists and the general public. They teach how to provide tourists with dolphin-safe experiences. and has lobbied for the reefs to become protected areas.

Dolphins instinctively rub up against corals. So new studies hope to identify which corals and selected sponges are used for specific body parts.

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