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Ozone layer holes causing sunburn among whales

world Updated: Nov 10, 2010 18:53 IST

IANS
Highlight Story

It's not just holidaymakers who need to protect themselves from the sun. Scientists have discovered that a growing number of whales too are at a risk of sunburn due to the hole in the ozone layer.

The findings come from a study of 156 blue, fin and sperm whales in the Gulf of California, according to the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Researchers have long known that whales suffer from blisters on their backs. However, why they have lesions (damaged tissue) has been a mystery - until now, reports the Daily Mail.

After analysing the scores of high resolution photographs and whale skin samples, a team of British and Mexican researchers now believe they are caused by acute sunburn.

Laura Martinez-Levasseur, of the Zoological Society of London, said: "Whales need to come to the surface to breathe air, to socialise and to feed their young, meaning that they are frequently exposed to the full force of the sun."

Blue whales, who have fairer skin than most whales, suffered more than the darker fin whales, she reports in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Sperm whales, who spend more time at the surface, were also vulnerable.

The problem was the most acute for blue whales, the study found. In 2007, just six out of 48 blue whales had sunburn. By 2009, 15 out of 22 whales studied were suffering.

"A likely cause is rising ultraviolet radiation as a result of either ozone depletion, or a change in the level of cloud cover," said Martinez-Levasseur.

Prof Edel O'Toole, from Queen Mary, said: "As we would expect to see in humans, the whale species that spent more 'time in the sun' suffered greater sun damage.

'We predict that whales will experience more severe sun damage if ultraviolet radiation continues to increase," she said.