Bottlenose Dolphins Use Corals and Sponges to Heal and Moisturize Their Skin

Everyone loves bottlenose dolphins!

These cetaceans are fond of showing off their intelligence and acrobatic skills, performing leaps, flips, and tail-walking on the surface of the water — and that is whether they are in an aquarium show or out in the wild.

These marine animals are also known to love belly rubs and body rolls.

And rubbing themselves against corals and sponges seems to be also among their natural behavior.

Photo: YouTube/The Scientist

That is until a new study showed that these dolphins may be in fact rubbing their bodies on certain types of corals and sponges for a real reason: to treat skin ailments.

“It’s very intensive,” said Angela Ziltener, a wildlife biologist at the University of Zurich, Switzerland. “They don’t just go through [the coral] – they go up, they come back down again and they rub their belly, their ventral area and the back.”

Even though they have smooth and thick skin, dolphins are vulnerable to skin diseases like bacterial and fungal infections, including poxvirus.

Photo: YouTube/The Scientist

And, according to the study’s findings, these marine mammals seem to be getting relief and treatment from soft gorgonian corals, leather corals, and certain sponges. They rub different body parts over and over again, including their head and tail.

It was also observed that some of the dolphins would even break a piece of leather coral from the seabed with their beaks and wave it repeatedly until a yellow and green substance came out. Then, they would let the substance paint their bodies and snouts.

Amazingly, these adult dolphins would even instruct the young calves to observe and learn the behavior.

Photo: YouTube/The Scientist

Upon analysis of the corals and sponges that were preferred by the bottlenose dolphins, the researchers found 17 bioactive metabolites, ten of which have antibacterial and anti-microbial properties, while the remaining compounds were similar to the estrogen hormones which, in humans, help to moisturize and firm up the skin.

“Such metabolites are helpful if you have an infection,” said Gertrud Morlock, an analytical chemist at Justus Liebig University Giessen in Germany and one of the study’s lead authors. “If the dolphins have a skin infection, these compounds could have something like a healing property.”

But more research is necessary to determine which of these compounds help in treating the dophins’ skin ailments and if those corals and sponges do really contribute to the health of these cetaceans. Learn more in the video below.

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