WATCH: How One of the Most Intelligent Mammals Can Self-Treat Themselves

WATCH: How One of the Most Intelligent Mammals Can Self-Treat Themselves

Note: This article may contain commentary or the author's opinion.

Dolphins are, in some measure, as brilliant as primates and birds. Like primates, dolphins and whales are vertebrates. A dolphin has a large brain compared to its body size. The cortex of the human brain is highly convoluted, but a dolphin’s cerebrum has many more folds! Dolphins and their kin are the only marine creatures who have successfully completed self-awareness’s mirror test.

Dolphins are one of the most intelligent animals on Earth, so it’s no surprise that they were found rubbing against a particular kind of coral to extract healing elements that will keep their skin healthy potentially.

Scientists say it is what might be compared to “showering” after waking up and getting out of bed. Then, assuming a human catches a rash, they could put a salve on it. Also, Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins get conditions, and another study shows that they, generally, are self-sedating by lining up to rub themselves against the corals.

Analysts have shown that the corals have therapeutic properties, suggesting that the dolphins utilize the marine invertebrates to medicate skin conditions.

Over ten years ago, co-lead creator Dr. Angela Ziltener, a wildlife biologist at the University of Zurich in Switzerland, first noticed dolphins rubbing against the coral in the Northern Red Sea, off the bank of Egypt. She and her group saw that the dolphins were specific in which corals they rubbed against, and they wanted to figure out why.

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“I hadn’t seen this coral rubbing behavior described before, and it was clear that the dolphins knew exactly which coral they wanted to use,” Dr. Ziltener said. “I thought, ‘There must be a reason.'”

Most dolphin research is directed from the surface of the water, leading to discoveries, for example, learning that the largest dolphin is the orca (killer whale.) The larger males can grow up to 32 feet and weigh 22,000 pounds! Their black, transcending dorsal blades can grow up to 6ft and are one of a kind among all whales and dolphins; and upon birth, orcas are around 6ft – 8ft. While the fastest dolphins are called Dall’s porpoises, and they can bullet through the water, reaching an impressive 35mph. However, in this case, since Dr. Ziltener is a diver, she had the opportunity to study the dolphins up close.

Patience and time were required to gain the trust of the unit she was studying, which she had the option to do because larger bubbles delivered by air tanks didn’t phase the dolphins. When the school allowed her to visit them routinely, she and her team could identify and test the corals that the dolphins were rubbing on.

Dr. Ziltener and her group found that by rubbing against the corals repeatedly, Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins were distributing the tiny polyps that make up the coral community, and these invertebrates were releasing mucus. 

Study lead author Professor Gertrud Morlock and her group found 17 active metabolites with hormonal, antioxidative, antibacterial, and toxic activities. This led to the conclusion that the bioactive compounds led the team to believe that the mucus from the corals is serving the dolphin skin’s microbiome and helps treat infections.

 “Repeated rubbing allows the active metabolites to come into contact with the skin of the dolphins,” said Professor Morlock, an analytical chemist and food scientist at Justus Liebig University in Germany. “These metabolites could help them achieve skin homeostasis and be useful for prophylaxis or auxiliary treatment against microbial infections.”