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A day at the spa – for dolphins


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Read on - epaper ⋅ Ausgabe 8/2022 vom 02.08.2022
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Dolphins in the Red Sea have been observed rubbing themselves against corals. Researchers think they may do so to soothe their skin.

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1 IT SEEMS humans aren’t the only species that likes to have a good skin treatment. Dolphins have been observed (and filmed) queueing up, like people at a popular spa, to swim over corals so they can rub different parts of their bodies against them. Researchers think dolphins may be doing so because it helps their skin.

2 Angela Ziltener is a wildlife biologist at the University of Zurich who has been swimming with bottlenose dolphins in the northern Red Sea near Egypt for many years. Being with the dolphins for such a long time has meant she has gained their trust, becoming an “adopted member of the pod”, as she puts it.

3 Because they think of Ziltener as one of them, the dolphins act naturally around her, doing things they would normally do when only dolphins are around.

This means Ziltener can observe behaviours that other humans cannot. ...

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... One behaviour in particular interested the biologist.

4 She saw the dolphins brushing up against certain types of coral and sponge again and again, as if on purpose. If there is more than one dolphin doing this in the same place, they don’t fight each other to rub against the coral, but wait their turn and then go, Ziltener says.

5 It was often after having a nap that the dolphins would perform the coral rubbing behaviour, Ziltener said: “It’s almost like they are showering, cleaning themselves … [after they] get up for the day”.

6 And it seems the behaviour is something the dolphins are keen to teach their young: calves under one year old have been observed watching adults brush themselves against the coral.

7 Ziltener also noticed that the dolphins don’t rub themselves against just any old coral. “It was clear that the dolphins knew exactly which coral they wanted to use. I thought: ‘there must be a reason’”, Ziltener said.

8 Like humans, dolphins sometimes suffer from irritated skin.

Ziltener wondered if the corals and sponges that the dolphins were rubbing themselves against had medicinal properties which helped relieve skin problems.

9 She and other researchers took pieces from the coral and sponges the dolphins went to and analysed them. They published what they found in a report in iScience.

10 The researchers found that there were 17 compounds in those corals and sponges. Ten of the compounds had antibacterial properties or antimicrobial activity, which may be helpful for irritated skin.

11 When corals and sponges are rubbed, they release mucus. The researchers think it’s possible that the dolphins rub against those corals and sponges on purpose so that they can swim through that mucus to soothe their skin.

12 However, they can’t prove that is the case. To do that, they would have to take skin samples from the dolphins. Not only would that not be possible because of regulations which protect the dolphins, but if Ziltener took samples from the dolphins, she might lose the pod’s trust.

13 “So far in this publication, we just can show the link between the [corals and sponges] and the dolphins”, Ziltener said. But the team will continue studying the behaviour.

14 They plan to research how the coral rubbing behaviour differs in dolphins of different sexes and ages, and which parts of the body dolphins rub the most.

15 But one thing the study has proven is just how important it is to protect and conserve our endangered coral reef systems. We know many different types of marine life depend on coral reefs to survive. Now we know they perhaps help dolphins to live more comfortable – and surely, happier – lives.

0 DOLPHIN “"dÅlfIn‘ Delfin — marine life Meereslebewesen — to rub o.s. against s.th. sich an etw. reiben — to treat behandeln — skin condition “k´n"dIS´n‘ Hauterkrankung — study Studie

1 it seems es scheint, dass … — human “"hju…m´n‘ Mensch — species “"spi…Si…z‘ — treatment Behandlung — to observe “´b"z‰…v‘ beobachten — to queue up “kju…‘ Schlange stehen — researcher “rI"s‰…tS´‘ Forscher(in)

2 wildlife biologist “baI"Ål´dZIst‘ Wildtierbiologe(-in) — Zurich “"zU´rIk‘ — bottlenose dolphin Großer Tümmler — Red Sea Rotes Meer — Egypt “"i… dZIpt‘ Ägypten — to gain s.o.’s trust jds. Vertrauen gewinnen — pod kleine Schule — to put it es ausdrücken

3 – 4 to act naturally “"nœtS´r´li‘ sich natürlich verhalten — to be around in der Nähe sein — behaviour “bI"heIvj´‘ Verhalten(sweise) — in particular “p´"tIkj´l´‘ im Besonderen — to brush up against s.th. sich an etw. reiben — certain “"s‰…t´n‘ bestimmte(r, s) — sponge “spøndZ‘ Schwamm — on purpose “"p‰…p´s‘ mit Absicht — to wait one’s turn warten, bis man an der Reihe ist

5 – 8 to have a nap ein Nickerchen machen — to perform ausführen — to be keen to do s.th. etw. gern tun wollen — calf “kA…f‘ Kalb — any old jede x- beliebige … — to suffer from s.th. “"søf´‘ an etw. leiden — irritated “"iriteItId‘ gereizt — medicinal “m´"dIsIn´l‘ heilend — property “"prÅp´ti‘ Eigenschaft — to relieve “rI"li…v‘ lindern

9 – 11to publish veröffentlichen — report Bericht — compound “"kÅmpaUnd‘ (chemische) Verbindung — antibacterial “Æœntibœk"tI´ri´l‘ antibakteriell — antimicrobial “ÆœntimaI"kr´Ubi´l‘ antimikrobiell — activity Wirkung — to release freisetzen — mucus “"mju…k´s‘ Schleim — soothe “su…D‘ lindern

12 – 13to prove “pru…v‘ beweisen — s.th. is the case etw. ist der Fall — sample Probe — regulation “Æregj´"leIS´n‘ Vorschrift — to protect schützen — so far bisher — publication “ÆpøblI"keIS´n‘ Veröffentlichung — link Verbindung — to continue doing s.th. “k´n"tInju…‘ etw. weiter tun

14 – 15to research erforschen — to differ sich unterscheiden — sex Geschlecht — to conserve “k´n"s‰…v‘ bewahren — endangered “In"deIndZ´d‘ gefährdet — to depend on s.th. auf etw. angewiesen sein — to survive “s´"vaIv‘ überleben