Deadly Skin Disease Found In Dolphins Linked To Climate Change

Dolphins are under a serious threat, caused by a dangerous skin disease that has been found to be linked to climate change.

Dolphins rival humans as the world’s smartest animal. We have so much in common with these amazing creatures- they too can learn and sing, they have memory and a language, they have a sense of humor, curiosity, and wonderment, and so much more!

Unfortunately, our desire to master nature actually destroys it, continuously and fast, especially in the last several decades. Nowadays, all the dolphins in the world are in jeopardy.

There’s a terrible skin disease that seriously endangers the world’s favorite sea animals, and we now know the cause of it. According to scientists, it is climate change!

Dolphins have faced serious problems after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Shortly afterward, marine biologists started detecting a life-threatening skin disease in a shocking number of dolphins.

The same thing was discovered again in 2007 in Victoria, Australia, and in 2009 in Western Australia’s Swan-River Canning system.

Now, scientists are seeing an increasing number of dolphins dying from this terrible disease at a shocking rate. What’s changed is that, now, they discovered that the disease is a result of a climate change-induced increase in severe weather events.

Scientifically labeled as ulcerative dermatitis, a freshwater skin disease that dolphins get is triggered by prolonged desalination of the water they live in.

Severe weather circumstances such as floods, hurricanes, and other storms dump enormous amounts of freshwater into saltwater systems. Even though dolphins are used to temporary variations in the saline (salt) quality of the water, these are too long.

The long period (weeks to months) needed for the recovery of the system causes the dolphins’ prolonged exposure.

This desalinated water provokes a few changes to the skin of the dolphins:

  • The skin becomes patchy and discolored
  • Those patches turn to raised lesions that cover up to 70% of the animal’s body
  • Fungus, bacteria, and algae that proliferate in the desalinated water colonize the lesions, causing swelling and ulcers

These lesions resemble third-degree burns in humans. Due to them, changes occur to the dolphins’ blood chemistry, which eventually affect their vital organs.

Veterinary pathologist Nahiid Stephens from Murdoch University in Australia explained:

“The breaks in the skin cause the dolphin to lose vital ions and proteins from their bodies. It kills them because it causes electrolyte disruptions in their bloodstream and they ultimately end up with organ failure.”

The research, published in December by the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, California in Scientific Reports, shows that there is undoubtedly a link between the disease and climate change.

Climate change impacts weather systems all around the world, which leads to an increased frequency and severity of storms.

These storms are changing the dolphins’ habitats all over the world, and affects their populations in Australia, Louisiana, Alabama, Texas, Florida, and Mississippi.

Chief pathologist and study lead Pádraig Duignan from the Marine Mammal Center said:

“We are concerned now about how this is being seen more frequently. This year was a record hurricane season, and who knows about next year. More Katrinas and more Harveys might be on their way, and each time, this will be happening to the dolphins. I think it will get worse.

People are probably getting sick of hearing about climate change, but it’s fundamental to everything right now. This is just another example of a disease happening to animals that never happened before. This is all because of the climate and ultimately we’re to blame for it.”

Unfortunately, the future of these magnificent creatures does not look bright. If the same damaging climate change conditions continue in the same trend, freshwater skin disease could eventually completely wipe out dolphins.

The only efficient way to save them is to slow down, mitigate, and reverse the effects of climate change.

Stephens agrees:

“We have to tackle the wicked problem of climate change which is multi-faceted and we also have to alleviate other threats to dolphins, because how many more wake-up calls do we need before it’s too late?”



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