Sunburned Whales?

The ozone layer, which helps shield ultraviolet rays from entering the atmosphere, has been consistently thinning over the years. A new study concludes that this effect is causing some whale species off the coast of Mexico to show signs of severe sunburn. Because whales need to spend a vast amount of time on the ocean’s surface to breathe, they are increasingly vulnerable. Certain whale species are more susceptible to these damages. Like humans, lighter-skinned whales are more vulnerable to the sun, for example the Blue Whale, the largest mammal on the planet.

Although other whale species such as the fin whale and sperm whale spend greater time periods on the surface than say the light-skinned blue whale, skin damage is not recorded as often due to darker pigments. Photographs have recorded skin lesions and skin samples have showed patterns of dead cells associated with exposure to UV rays. The greatest fear of scientists is these skin samples will start to show cell damage leading to cancer. This projection could be a serious threat to an already endangered and threatened species. Further studies are now being conducted on how resilient whale skin is to constant UV radiation.

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