To Avoid Sunburn, Whales Get a Tan

Scientists take first look at how they deal with sun damage
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 31, 2013 7:55 AM CDT
To Avoid Sunburn, Whales Get a Tan
A blue whale.   (Associated Press)

Researchers have found an unusual way in which whales and humans are similar: we both get suntans. Blue whales, especially, tend to tan to protect themselves from the sun's UV rays, reports the Canadian Press. Essentially, they tan during their summer migrations to ward off dangerous sunburns, as a Newcastle University researcher explains to the BBC: "When blue whales go on their holidays to the Gulf of California they get a tan the same way we do. And that tan protects blue whales from sunburnt DNA." The big blues have lighter skins than the other two types studied—sperm whales and fin whales—and that makes the tanning necessary.

Sperm whales, which spend up to six hours at the surface and thus take in big doses of UV rays, take a different human-like tack. Their bodies activate what amount to repair genes, explains National Geographic. "This process is similar to how human bodies produce antioxidants in response to free radicals, molecules that can cause a lot of genetic and cellular damage." The fin whales, meanwhile, have the darkest skin of the three and fared the best in terms of sun damage thanks to their naturally high levels of melanin. (The fins don't migrate, staying in the Gulf of California year-round, notes New Scientist.) Researchers say the findings might not only help them better protect whales and other marine animals from cancer, but they could shed light on skin cancer in humans and the aging process in general. (In other sea-creature news, researchers say the big dolphin die-off on the East Coast is the result of a virus.)

We use cookies. By Clicking "OK" or any content on this site, you agree to allow cookies to be placed. Read more in our privacy policy.
Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.