On her deep-sea dives, wildlife biologist Angela Ziltener of the College of Zurich typically observed Indo-Pacific bottlenosed dolphins doing one thing intriguing. The dolphins (Tursiops aduncus) would line as much as take turns brushing their our bodies in opposition to corals or sea sponges lining the seafloor. After greater than a decade as an “adopted” member of the pod — a standing that permit Ziltener stand up shut with out disturbing the animals — she and her workforce might have found out why the animals behave this manner: The dolphins might use corals and sea sponges as their very own personal pharmacies.
The invertebrates make antibacterial compounds — in addition to others with antioxidant or hormonal properties — which can be most likely launched into the waters of the Northern Pink Sea when dolphins make contact, Ziltener and colleagues report Might 19 in iScience. So the rubbing might assist dolphins keep wholesome pores and skin.
Ziltener captured video displaying members of the pod utilizing corals as in the event that they have been a shower brush, swimming via to rub varied elements of their our bodies. Oftentimes it’s a peaceable social gathering. “It’s not like they’re combating one another for the flip,” Ziltener says. “No, they wait after which they undergo.” Different occasions, a person dolphin will arrive at a patch of coral by itself.
However the dolphins gained’t buff their our bodies in opposition to simply any corals, Ziltener says. They’re choosy, primarily rubbing up in opposition to gorgonian corals (Rumphella aggregata) and leather-based corals (Sarcophyton sp.), in addition to a type of sea sponge (Ircinia sp.).
Ziltener and colleagues analyzed one-centimeter slices taken from wild corals and sponges. The workforce recognized 17 compounds total, together with 10 with antibacterial or antimicrobial exercise. It’s potential that because the dolphins swim via the corals, the compounds assist shield the animals from pores and skin irritations or infections, says coauthor Gertrud Morlock, an analytical chemist at Justus Liebig College Giessen in Germany.
Different animals, together with chimpanzees, can self-medicate (SN: 11/3/90). Marine biologist Jeremy Kiszka of Florida Worldwide College in Miami says the brand new research convinces him that the dolphins are utilizing corals and sea sponges for that objective. However, he says, extra experiments are essential to show the hyperlink. Lab checks, as an illustration, might assist determine the varieties of micro organism that the compounds may work in opposition to.
Ziltener agrees there’s extra to be carried out. As an illustration, it’s additionally potential that along with prevention, dolphins use corals and sea sponges to deal with lively pores and skin infections, she says, however the workforce has but to see proof of a coral remedy. Subsequent up although, Ziltener says, is determining whether or not dolphins desire to rub particular physique elements on particular corals in such an “underwater spa.”