Easy, breezy, beautiful

How do dolphins maintain their glowing skin? A study reveals the surprising answer

Maybe she’s born with it, maybe it’s gorgonian coral.

Originally Published: 
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Angela Ziltener

We all have daily routines that keep us healthy and refreshed.

For Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins, rubbing against corals might be akin to showering.

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Rubbing behaviors in dolphins have only been documented a handful of times and are not well understood.

But researchers writing this week in the journal iScience report that a routine coral scrub appears to be a way that these dolphins keep their skin healthy.

Angela Ziltener

Other sea creatures, such as bowhead whales, are known to scratch their skin against rocks to exfoliate as their skin molts.

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But it wasn’t clear why dolphins — who shed skin cells little by little — intentionally rub against corals.

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For the study, researchers dove into the depths of the Northern Red Sea and collected samples of the bottlenose dolphins’ favorite corals.

It turns out they’re quite picky — the dolphins only rub against certain gorgonian corals (shown above), leather corals, and Ircinia sponges.

Angela Ziltener

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Researchers noticed that the dolphin’s repeated brushing on corals caused them to ooze mucus.

So they wanted to explore what was inside this mucus that could potentially benefit the dolphins.

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They found a host of active metabolites with hormonal, antibacterial, and antioxidative properties.

The researchers conclude that these compounds might help keep the dolphin’s skin microbiome in tip-top shape, allowing them to fight off skin infections.

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It’s no surprise, then, that they love the reefs.

Study co-author Angela Ziltener described the coral reefs in a statement as playgrounds and bedrooms for dolphins. They often wake from naps to rub on corals.

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“It’s almost like they are showering, cleaning themselves before they go to sleep or get up for the day.”

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