Pharmacy at Sea: Dolphins ‘use coral as medicine’

New research suggests that dolphins may self-medicate their skin conditions, adding to evidence for the medicinal properties of some corals and sponges.

Who doesn’t love a shower gel? Dolphins sure do: They’re known to be smart, playful, and cuddly animals, and they love rubbing against rough surfaces, sleeping on coral beds, and soaking in sponges as guests at an underwater spa.

However, dolphins can benefit from their bath for more than just relaxation and recreation. A study published today suggests that bottlenose dolphins may be able to self-medicate their skin ailments with the help of corals, adding to the growing research on their previously unexplored medicinal properties.

“It’s very intense,” said Angela Zeltner, one of the study’s lead authors, of dolphins’ behavior with some corals. “They don’t just pass [el coral]They go up and down and rub their stomachs, stomachs and backs.”

Dolphins have thick, smooth, and hard skin, but they may be susceptible to skin conditions such as bacterial and fungal infections, scarring, or tattoo-like lesions from smallpox viral infections. These diseases appear to be exacerbated by global warming.

Study of dolphins and coral reefs

Ziltener, a wildlife biologist at the University of Zurich in Switzerland, and her team survey a community of 360 bottlenose dolphins in the Indo-Pacific ( Tursiops aduncus ) in the northern Red Sea since 2009. They note that cetaceans often queue to catch corals as soon as they wake up and just before bed, as if they are taking a bath to start the day. In addition to mechanical friction, dolphins also cause corals to secrete polyp mucus.

The team also noted that the dolphins returned to the same type of corals and seemed to be strict about choosing which body parts to rub. They conducted lab tests on 48 samples of corals, sponges, and coral mucus “selected” by dolphins, including gorgonian corals. Rumphella aggregata coral and leather Sarcoviton S. and the sponge Ircinia sp.

The findings, published in the journal iScience, revealed at least 17 different bio-active metabolites with anti-bacterial, antioxidant and estrogen-like hormonal properties, all of which could be useful in skin treatments.

The compounds are not commonly used in human or animal antibiotics, but a growing body of research shows that some corals and sponges have medicinal, even antimicrobial, properties.

“These metabolites are useful if you have an infection,” said Gertrude Morlock, an analytical chemist at Justus Liebig-Giesen University in Germany, and lead author of the study. “If the dolphins have a skin infection, these compounds may have a therapeutic property.

“But if you think about it, they don’t have any other options. If they have a problem with their skin, what can they do?”

Coral reefs with medicinal properties

The authors note that more research is needed to show the medicinal properties of corals that dolphins need to treat certain diseases, and whether these properties have a measurable positive effect on the health of cetaceans.

Learning more about the dolphin’s social network and demographics can help with this. Tracking individual dolphins displaying behavior and seeing if they have fewer skin diseases or a lower mortality rate compared to the rest of the group would bolster that argument, according to Sarah Powell, a former marine biologist who studies how dolphins transmit their skin diseases, but who has not participate in this study.

Previous research has shown that dolphins like to use coral sponges as feeders. “I don’t think it’s much room for dolphins to use corals and other plants in their environment for other purposes,” Powell said.

“Since dolphins are by nature playful, gentle animals that love to rub, it is difficult to ensure that they use corals for medicinal purposes,” said Stephanie Finn Watson, a marine biologist who studies dolphin health and longevity, and was also not involved in the research.

The next step in establishing the link, he said, will be to show that corals that dolphins ignore lack the same medicinal properties. “This is a good science-driven itch.”

Written by Sophia Quaglia. Article in English

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