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Dolphins queue up to rub against coral and sponges for medicinal purposes


Scientists have found a suite of bioactive compounds in specific corals and sponges which were secreted and which helped to treat skin problems in dolphins. Some of these secretions had antibacterial properties. And it is said that some of these compounds seem to act like oestrogen and others were toxic. Oestrogen helps to keep human skin hydrated and perhaps the toxic compounds help to get rid of pathogens on dolphins’ skin which irritated them.

And what was surprising to Dr. Angela Ziltener, of the University of Zürich, when diving in the Red Sea, was that dolphins queued up for this medicinal treatment. She regards the behaviour as unique and said: “They would stand in a line, wait for their turn, rub a body part, then come back and repeat the behaviour on a different body part. It was quite organised, and they really tried to cover all the body.”

She realised that they were rubbing against coral and doing it selectively. They chose the same species of coral and sponges each time. They came to the reefs during the daytime to sleep and to socialise and she noticed a schedule to the coral rubbing activity. To her, it seemed that they did it before they went to sleep in the morning and then again when they woke up.

Remarkably, the dolphins queued orderly from nose to tail waiting patiently to take their turn. She believes that the dolphins were engaging in an activity which is similar to humans going to a pharmacy and buying a tincture to put on their skin. “It helps”, she said.

It seems that the queueing aspect of this process is due to the fact that there are more dolphins than there are the special species of sponges and coral which provides the treatment. It seems like a supply and demand problem with an excess of demand and an under-supply. I wonder if global warming will impact this negatively? I’m referring to the gradual erosion and disappearance of coral reefs due to climate change.

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