Navigation Links
Whales feel the (sun)burn!

Whales have been shown to increase the pigment in their skin in response to sunshine, just as we get a tan.

Research published today in Nature journal, Scientific Reports, reveals that not only do some species of whales get darker with sun exposure, incurring DNA damage in their skin just like us, they also accumulate damage to the cells in the skin as they get older.

Experts in the response of skin to UV radiation at Newcastle University, UK were called in after marine biologists in Mexico noticed an increasing number of whales in the area had blistered skin. Analysing samples from three types of whales blue, sperm and fin - they worked together to study the changes in the whale skin after their annual migration to sunnier climes.

Mark Birch-Machin, Professor of Molecular Dermatology at Newcastle University and joint senior author of the paper said: "Whales can be thought of as the UV barometers of the sea. It's important that we study them as they are some of the longest living sea creatures and are sensitive to changes in their environment so they reflect the health of the ocean."

Migrating whales 'tan'

Over three years, the team of marine biologists from Trent University, Canada and Universities in La Paz and Quertaro, Mexico, took skin samples from the backs of three species of whales during their annual migration. Occurring between February and April the whales move to the sunnier Gulf of California, along the northwest coast of Mexico.

Blue whales, the jumbo-jet sized giants, have a very pale pigmentation. During migration time the team found a seasonal change with the pigment in their skin increasing as well as mitochondrial DNA damage. This internal damage to the mitochondria, the engines of the cells, is caused by UV exposure and is what we find in sunburned human skin.

Sperm whales with their distinctive rounded foreheads have a darker pigmentation, also migrate between February and April to the Gulf of California, but have a different lifestyle. They spend long periods at the surface between feeds and are therefore, exposed to more sun and UV.

The scientists found the sperm whales had a different mechanism for protecting themselves from the sun, triggering a stress response in their genes. Newcastle University researcher Amy Bowman added: "We saw for the first time evidence of genotoxic pathways being activated in the cells of the whales this is similar to the damage response caused by free radicals in human skin which is our protective mechanism against sun damage."

In contrast, the darkest whales, the deeply pigmented fin whales, were found to be resistant to sun damage showing the lowest prevalence of sunburn lesions in their skin.

Karina Acevedo-Whitehouse, currently Senior Lecturer at the Universidad Autnoma de Quertaro, Mexico and joint senior author of the paper said: "There has been an increase in the number of reports on blister-type skin lesions in various whale species in areas of high UV radiation. In many cases no infectious microorganism has been found associated with these lesions. It's important that we study the effect of UV radiation on whale skin and the mechanisms that these species use to counteract such damage, both from an evolutionary approach and from a conservation perspective."

To carry out the research the Newcastle University team had to develop an analysis which allowed three whale genomes to be analysed at the same time, a difficult task as whales have very different sequences. This research is the first time that whales have been studied at a genetic level linking to migratory patterns and genetic damage.

"We need to investigate further what is happening," said Professor Birch-Machin, "if we are already seeing blistered skin in the whales caused by UV damage then we want to know whether this could develop into skin cancer and therefore serve as an early warning system.

"These whales occupy the same area year after year, so it is increasingly possible to understand the status of their populations, and what may be going on around them and in the environment. They are a reminder that changing climatic conditions are affecting every creature on the planet."


Contact: Karen Bidewell
Newcastle University

Related biology news :

1. Genetic survey of endangered Antarctic blue whales shows surprising diversity
2. Giant squids giant eyes: The better to see hungry whales with
3. New iPad, iPhone app helps mariners avoid endangered right whales
4. Study amplifies understanding of hearing in baleen whales
5. A whale of a discovery: New sensory organ found in rorqual whales
6. Scientists discover a new sensory organ in the chin of baleen whales
7. First paternity study of southern right whales finds local fathers most successful
8. New DNA-method tracks fish and whales in seawater
9. Long menopause allows killer whales to care for adult sons
10. Eating right key to survival of whales and dolphins: UBC research
11. Multi-tasking whales sing while feeding, not just breeding
Post Your Comments:
(Date:11/19/2015)... -- Although some 350 companies are actively involved in molecular ... according to Kalorama Information. These include Roche Diagnostics, Hologic, Abbott ... of the 6.1 billion-dollar molecular testing market, according to ... Diagnostic s .    ... one company and only a handful of companies can ...
(Date:11/17/2015)... , November 17, 2015 ... 19 novembre  2015.  --> Paris , ... --> DERMALOG, le leader de l,innovation biométrique, a ... fois passeports et empreintes sur la même surface de ... passeports et l,autre pour les empreintes digitales. Désormais, un ...
(Date:11/12/2015)... Nov. 12, 2015  A golden retriever that stayed ... dystrophy (DMD) has provided a new lead for treating ... the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard and the ... . Cell, pinpoints a protective ... the disease,s effects. The Boston Children,s lab of ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:11/24/2015)... , Nov. 24, 2015  Twist Bioscience, ... that Emily Leproust, Ph.D., Twist Bioscience chief executive ... Healthcare Conference on December 1, 2015 at 3:10 ... in New York City. --> ... . Twist Bioscience is on Twitter. Sign ...
(Date:11/24/2015)... BC (PRWEB) , ... November 24, 2015 , ... ... our customer, OrthoAccel® Technologies, Inc., on being named to Deloitte's 2015 Technology Fast ... Technologies’ Texas facility, OrthoAccel manufactures AcceleDent®, a FDA-cleared, Class II medical device that ...
(Date:11/24/2015)... HemoShear Therapeutics, LLC, a privately held ... disorders, announced today the appointment of H. ... (BOD). Mr. Watkins is the former president and ... and also served as the chairman of the ... Chairman and CEO of HemoShear Therapeutics. "The combination ...
(Date:11/24/2015)... ... ... Laboratories is pleased to announce that it has completed construction on a new ... 61, USP 62 and USP 51 testing specific to raw materials and will enable ... by one supplier. Management has formally announced that the facility will be ...
Breaking Biology Technology: