Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Whales suffering sunburn

Here is the latest thing for environmentalists to worry about. The lighter-skinned
whales are getting sunburned thru an Anarctic hole in the ozone layer!
DiscoveryNews reports:
The study, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, is the first to demonstrate that sun damage to whale skin is on the rise and is likely tied to increasing levels of ultraviolet radiation resulting from the thinning ozone layer.

"The thing is, whales do not have hair, fur or feathers that could offer some protection, and they are forced to surface in order to breathe," co-author Karina Acevedo-Whitehouse told Discovery News.

"Other animals have behavioral adaptations -- hiding in the shade, for example -- but whales cannot afford to do so," added Acevedo-Whitehouse, a postdoctoral fellow at the Zoological Society of London. ...

The scientists also found that darker whales, in this case sperm and fin whales, tended to not get sunburned as much as lighter blue whales. ...

"Perhaps the most startling lesson from the ozone hole is just how quickly our planet can change," said Jonathan Shanklin, a British Antarctic Survey researcher who has studied the ozone hole and its probable causes, industrial solvents and chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) used in refrigeration and air conditioning systems.

Although it's hoped that phasing out of these compounds will allow Antarctic ozone levels to return to 1950's levels by the year 2080, that doesn't provide much hope for whales over the next several years.

"I do not believe we would be able to do very much to reduce the damage to whales caused by sun exposure," Acevedo-Whitehouse said. "However, efforts to mitigate other stressors, such as by reducing contaminants and noise pollution, could be tried and thus aim to reduce their environmental stress levels."
So we cannot reduce the sunburn, but maybe the whales will be happier if we shut down shipping and other byproducts of modern civilization.

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