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Fatal Skin Disease in Dolphins Linked to Hurricanes

Most people understand and are aware of the negative effects that hurricanes have on humans, whether that be the destruction of buildings and cities or the ruining of homes. But, did you know that hurricanes also negatively affect wildlife too? Scientists from multiple organizations found evidence that links hurricanes and their disruptive behavior to a fatal skin disease for bottlenose dolphins. After Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, scientists discovered some bottlenose dolphins covered in lesions and ulcers but were unknowledgeable of what caused the disease. After extensive research that carried on for over 15 years, Scientific Reports was finally able to connect the skin disease as a direct result of climate change. But how does that work? The answer is rather simple.

During a hurricane, or any other type of natural weather pattern (for example, a cyclone), the chemical balance of the ocean’s water shifts for the worse. As hurricanes and cyclones push large amounts of fresh water into the ocean, the water’s pH changes as the salinity decreases and harms the wildlife inside. Bottlenose dolphins' skin is extremely sensitive, even more so than human skin. The bottlenose dolphins can handle freshwater on their skin for short periods of time, but as climate change occurs and storms become more frequent, the duration of the bottlenose dolphin’s toleration of freshwater decreases. The sensitive skin of bottlenose dolphins does not react well to the freshwater, causing ulcers and lesions to cover their skin. In some cases, up to 70% of a bottlenose dolphin’s body can be covered in these lesions. Lesions are very painful to dolphins; the pain can be compared to third-degree burns on human flesh.

Not only are the lesions and ulcers painful to the dolphins, but they can also lead to organ failure. As the lesions remain open on the dolphin’s skin, proteins and ions flow out of the dolphin as harmful particles from the freshwater, such as bacteria and fungi, flood in. The entering of these harmful things can ultimately lead to organ failure in dolphins, effectively harming them for the rest of their lives or causing them to die.

2020 was a record-breaking year for hurricanes, and no one knows what the future holds. As climate change continues to destroy our planet, more storms will occur and harm the wildlife around us. We can only hope this problem for bottlenose dolphins will be resolved as climate change decreases. And, even though the news presented by scientists is grim and discouraging, it is beneficial that a cause has finally been linked to the problem of lesions on dolphins. Now that we finally know what causes this harmful outbreak, scientists and wildlife protectors can further aid these dolphins from this life-threatening disease.

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