Deadly Skin Disease Affecting Dolphins Linked To Climate Change

(FETHI BELAID/AFP via Getty Images)

Alex Corey Contributor
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Scientists in California and Australia have discovered climate change is to blame for a deadly skin impacting dolphins for 15 years.

The Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, California, in collaboration with Australian researchers, released a study in Scientific Reports that found decreased salinity — caused by the increase in catastrophic storms from climate change—has led to the “freshwater skin disease” or ulcerative dermatitis in the marine mammals, the Miami Herald reported.

The illness causes patchy skin lesions that can cover up to 70% of the sea creature’s skin, the study found.

Storms like Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and Hurricane Harvey in 2017 brought more freshwater from rainfall to waterways dolphins inhabited, scientists found. By observing photos of the mammals before, during, and after the storms, the scientists said they discovered the longer the creatures were in the hypo-saline water, the worse their lesions became. (RELATED: National Weather Service Describes Hurricane Harvey As ‘Unprecedented’)

The researchers said as temperatures continue to increase, climate scientists predict more storms like these and as a result, a large number of cases of dolphins impacted by the fatal condition.

“This devastating skin disease has been killing dolphins since Hurricane Katrina, and we’re pleased to finally define the problem,” said co-author Dr. Pádraig Duignan, chief pathologist at The Marine Mammal Center, in a news release. “With a record hurricane season in the Gulf of Mexico this year and more intense storm systems worldwide due to climate change, we can absolutely expect to see more of these devastating outbreaks killing dolphins.”

Thie study comes as an outbreak of the disease is impacting the “rare and threatened” Burrunan dolphin in southeast Australia, and the new information could provide professionals with the necessary information to diagnose and treat the affected animals, the scientists said.

“This case definition will facilitate a better understanding of a dermatopathy that will likely continue to emerge where coastal dolphin communities globally are exposed to sudden or unprecedented environmental change as a result of climatic change or perturbations and anthropogenic habitat degradation,” the study read.