Dolphins Affected By Fatal Skin Disease Worldwide: Climate Change Culprit

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The Centre for Marine Mammals and researchers from Australia have collaborated on a dolphin study that has revealed horrifying findings. The increasing severity and frequency of storm formations are drastically decreasing the salt percentage in waters near the coast. As a result, dolphins around the world are suffering from a fatal disease of their skin.

The Center for Marine Mammals is located in California’s Sausalito and is the biggest hospital for marine mammals across the world. Along with colleagues from across the world, this novel disease of dolphins’ skin was identified. Furthermore, climate change is believed to be the cause. Needless to say, the findings of the study have been groundbreaking. The disease was spotted first in 2005. After almost a decade and a half, it has finally been possible for scientists to pin the cause behind the condition. The condition has affected dolphin communities across the world.

Increasing Storms Means Decreasing Salinity

Climate change decreased the salinity of the water. As a result, the skin of the dolphins forms raised and patchy skin lesions across their entire body. Sometimes, the lesions cover more than 70% of the dolphin’s skin.

The international dolphin study had three reputed co-authors from Australia and California. They are Dr. Kate Robb, Dr. Nahiid Stephens, and Dr. Padraig Duignan. The study was published in the journal Scientific Reports. The journal is peer-reviewed and focuses on natural sciences. The study is the first case definition ever for bottlenose dolphins regarding skin disease in freshwater.

In the past few years, there have been significant outbreaks of the disease in Australia, Texas, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana. The study arrives following them. In all the stated locations, there was a single common factor – the salt content of the waters had drastically and suddenly dropped. Dolphins on the coast are used to salinity level changes which are seasonal that take place in their habitat in the ocean.

But this change is anything but seasonal. Storm events such as cyclones and hurricanes are increasing in frequency and severity. These are causing unusual volumes of rainwater to be dumped, especially if drought conditions preceded them. Consequently, coastal waters are being turned into freshwater.

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Such conditional freshwater can remain for months. This is especially the case for intense storms like the recent Hurricanes Katrina and Harvey. As the climate temperature increases, climate scientists forecast that extreme storms similar to them will only increase in frequency. As such, this will only cause more severe and frequent outbreaks of the dolphins’ skin disease.

The Prognosis For The Dolphins Is Poor

Duignan said that the devastating disease has been taking the life of dolphins ever since Hurricane Katrina took place. But they were pleased to be able to finally find an explanation for the problem. He also said that the devastating outbreaks will be killing more dolphins, as climate change is causing storm systems to become more intense worldwide.


Australia’s current outbreak will be heavily affected by the study. The present outbreak is affecting the threatened and rare Burrunan dolphins in the southeastern part of Australia. The study can give professionals the information they need to locate and treat animals that are affected. Unfortunately, the outlook over the long term for dolphins that are suffering from the disease is quite poor. This is particularly true for those who have been exposed to freshwater for a prolonged period.

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The fatal skin disease first came to be known in 2005 when researchers spotted them on about 40 bottlenose dolphins. The dolphins were spotted following Hurricane Katrina near the coast of New Orleans.

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