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Whales feel the (sun)burn

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Posted August 30, 2013
Blue whale

Blue whale
Photo: Fred Benko – National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Central Library. (via Wikimedia Commons)

Whales have been shown to increase the pigment in their skin in response to sunshine, just as we get a tan.

Research published today in Nature journal, Scientific Reports, reveals that not only do some species of whales get darker with sun exposure, incurring DNA damage in their skin just like us, they also accumulate damage to the cells in the skin as they get older.

Experts in the response of skin to UV radiation at Newcastle University, UK were called in after marine biologists in Mexico noticed an increasing number of whales in the area had blistered skin. Analysing samples from three types of whales – blue, sperm and fin – they worked together to study the changes in the whale skin after their annual migration to sunnier climes.

Mark Birch-Machin, Professor of Molecular Dermatology at Newcastle University and joint senior author of the paper said: “Whales can be thought of as the UV barometers of the sea. It’s important that we study them as they are some of the longest living sea creatures and are sensitive to changes in their environment so they reflect the health of the ocean.”

Migrating whales ‘tan’

Over three years, the team of marine biologists from Trent University, Canada and Universities in La Paz and Querétaro, Mexico, took skin samples from the backs of three species of whales during their annual migration. Occurring between February and April the whales move to the sunnier Gulf of California, along the northwest coast of Mexico.

Read more at: Phys.org

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