www.telegraph.co.uk 10th November 2010
Quoted from source:
A study of whales in the Gulf of California over the past few years showed blisters and other symptoms typically associated with the skin damage that humans suffer from exposure to the ultraviolet radiation. Whales would be particularly vulnerable to sunburn in part because they need to spend extended periods of time on the ocean’s surface to breathe, socialise, and feed their young. Without fur or feathers to protect their skin, they are effectively sunbathing naked. Laura Martinez-Levasseur, the study’s lead author, said: “Humans can put on clothes or sunglasses – whales can’t.” Ms Martinez-Levasseur, who works at Zoological Society of London, spent three years studying whales in the Gulf of California. Photographs were taken of the whales to chart any visible damage, and small samples – taken with a crossbow-fired dart – were collected to examine the state of their skin cells. Her study, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, seemed to confirm suspicions first raised by one of her whale-watching colleagues: The mammals were showing lesions associated with sun damage, and many of their skin samples revealed patterns of dead cells associated with exposure to UV radiation. As with humans, the lighter-skinned whales seemed to have the most difficulty dealing with the sun. Blue whales had more severe skin damage than their darker-skinned counterparts, fin whales and sperm whales, even though the latter spend bigger chunks of time at the surface. So far, there were no indications of skin cancer among the whales studied, although Ms Martinez-Levasseur, who is also a PhD student at Queen Mary, University of London, noted that only tiny samples were taken.