A research team observing blue, sperm and fin whales in the Gulf of California reports evidence of sunburn on the skin of whales observed in the Gulf over the past three years. Tell-tale signs include blisters and evidence of the cetacean equivalent of tanning: higher levels of melanin in skin samples collected by scientists. Whales are at greater risk, the researchers said, because they spend so much time at the surface: to breathe and to socialize.
The likely culprit? Thinning of the ozone layer as a result of human use of now-banned CFCs as aerosol propellants, in refrigeration and in industrial solvents. While these compounds have been outlawed, the residual effects on the ozone layer are expected to last for decades.
The findings were published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
Pass the sunscreen.
Photo copyright Diane Gendron, Centro Interdisciplinario de Ciencias Marinas, Instituto Politécnico Nacional, La Paz, Baja California, Mexico.