Fatal Skin Disease in Dolphins Linked to the Climate Crisis
Dolphins around the world developed "fresh-water skin disease (FWSD)" when influxes of freshwater drastically reduced the salinity of coastal waters, causing the cetaceans' skin to take on water to the point of cells bursting, explained Pádraig Duignan, chief pathologist at The Marine Mammal Center (TMMC) in Sausalito, CA.
Duignan and his fellow researchers identified the novel skin disease by focusing on two separate dolphin die-offs that happened in 2007 and 2009.
"They were having these die-offs in dolphins, and we didn't know what they were," Duignan said. "We couldn't find a link to any disease that had been described in the literature before. Then we looked to all this data. Sure enough, we saw that it's part of a pattern."
Searching for underlying causes, Duignan and his co-authors examined the skin and lesions of dolphins who had died with this condition. They found that it was not a viral disease, one of the initial hypotheses. Access to long-term physico-chemical water quality data from permanent monitoring systems revealed the surprising culprit: freshwater.
It turns out that "sudden, dramatic and prolonged" exposure to freshwater causes devastating skin damage in dolphins that the researchers have since called FWSD, said Nahiid Stephens, second author on the study and veterinary pathology lecturer at Murdoch University in Perth, Western Australia. Because dolphins have evolved over millennia to live in marine environments, they cannot adapt to such drastic changes to salinity, Stephens explained.
When inundated with freshwater, the dolphins' skin cells become dull as they start to take on water through osmosis. The cells swell and inflame until some pop and create holes, in a few days at most, Duignan told EcoWatch. The holes turn into ulcers and lesions, which are a complete breach in the skin, within a few weeks. The skin no longer can serve as a healthy barrier against the outside world, exposing body tissues and allowing for a loss of fluids, salts, electrolytes and essential elements, he added. Loss of essential solutes and proteins can lead to organ dysfunction, shock and death. Badly damaged skin can also open the door for secondary opportunistic infectious organisms such as fungi, bacteria, and algae, Stephens said.
Both researchers compared the skin lesions to a severe third-degree burn.
"Some of these animals lose 70% of their skin. There's no way back from that in the wild," Duignan said.
The study, which was published in the journal Scientific Reports, also mentioned anecdotal reports from around the world of similar outbreaks. Dolphins in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida and Texas have suffered from what appears to have been FWSD in the wake of rainfall surges and flooding post-Hurricanes Katrina (2005) and Harvey (2017), Stephens said. Similarly, Duignan mentioned a humpback whale and her calf that got caught up the Sacramento River for 20 days.
"Their skin started showing these changes and sloughing to visible ulcers," the pathologist said. "After 20 days, the whales got back to the San Francisco bay and the ocean, and within a day of being back, their skin improved. They got back in saline water in time, so they survived."
Stephens explained to EcoWatch, "Common to all outbreaks in all locations was a preceding extreme weather event with extensive rainfall which causes a sudden, significant influx of freshwater into an enclosed to semi-enclosed body of water, which is normally brackish to marine in nature, causing a sudden, dramatic, and persistent drop in salinity to become freshwater. So finally we accepted that the cause was not infectious, but environmental."
The study also examined their data and hypothesis against the extensive studies and climate crisis modeling worldwide that predict that severe weather events will increase in frequency and intensity, Stephens said. These weather events are likely to trigger the sudden dramatic freshwater surges required to trigger the environmental fluctuations that cause FWSD, so the scientists made the link to climate change, she explained.
"We are concerned now about how this is being seen more frequently," Duignan said. "This year was a record hurricane season, and who knows about next year. More Katrinas and more Harveys might be on their way, and each time, this will be happening to the dolphins. I think it will get worse."
He concluded, "People are probably getting sick of hearing about climate change, but it's fundamental to everything right now. This is just another example of a disease happening to animals that never happened before. This is all because of the climate and ultimately we're to blame for it."
- Climate Change Likely Drove Our Ancestors to Extinction, Study Finds ›
- Everglades Dolphins Have Highest Level of Mercury Ever Found in ... ›
- Why Do Whales and Dolphins Strand? - EcoWatch ›
- New Clues Help Monarch Butterfly Conservation Efforts - EcoWatch ›
- Monarch Butterflies Will Be Protected Under Historic Deal - EcoWatch ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
California faces another "critically dry year" according to state officials, and a destructive wildfire season looms on its horizon. But in a state that welcomes innovation, water efficacy approaches and drought management could replenish California, increasingly threatened by the climate's new extremes.
- Remarkable Drop in Colorado River Water Use Sign of Climate ... ›
- California Faces a Future of Extreme Weather - EcoWatch ›
Wisdom the mōlī, or Laysan albatross, is the oldest wild bird known to science at the age of at least 70. She is also, as of February 1, a new mother.
<div id="dadb2" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="aa2ad8cb566c9b4b6d2df2693669f6f9"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1357796504740761602" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">🚨Cute baby alert! Wisdom's chick has hatched!!! 🐣😍 Wisdom, a mōlī (Laysan albatross) and world’s oldest known, ban… https://t.co/Nco050ztBA</div> — USFWS Pacific Region (@USFWS Pacific Region)<a href="https://twitter.com/USFWSPacific/statuses/1357796504740761602">1612558888.0</a></blockquote></div>
By Hui Hu
Winter is supposed to be the best season for wind power – the winds are stronger, and since air density increases as the temperature drops, more force is pushing on the blades. But winter also comes with a problem: freezing weather.
Comparing rime ice and glaze ice shows how each changes the texture of the blade. Gao, Liu and Hu, 2021, CC BY-ND
Ice buildup changes air flow around the turbine blade, which can slow it down. The top photos show ice forming after 10 minutes at different temperatures in the Wind Research Tunnel. The lower measurements show airflow separation as ice accumulates. Icing Research Tunnel of Iowa State University, CC BY-ND
While traditional investment in the ocean technology sector has been tentative, growth in Israeli maritime innovations has been exponential in the last few years, and environmental concern has come to the forefront.
theDOCK aims to innovate the Israeli maritime sector. Pexels<p>The UN hopes that new investments in ocean science and technology will help turn the tide for the oceans. As such, this year kicked off the <a href="https://www.oceandecade.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030)</a> to galvanize massive support for the blue economy.</p><p>According to the World Bank, the blue economy is the "sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods, and jobs while preserving the health of ocean ecosystem," <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160412019338255#b0245" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Science Direct</a> reported. It represents this new sector for investments and innovations that work in tandem with the oceans rather than in exploitation of them.</p><p>As recently as Aug. 2020, <a href="https://www.reutersevents.com/sustainability/esg-investors-slow-make-waves-25tn-ocean-economy" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Reuters</a> noted that ESG Investors, those looking to invest in opportunities that have a positive impact in environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues, have been interested in "blue finance" but slow to invest.</p><p>"It is a hugely under-invested economic opportunity that is crucial to the way we have to address living on one planet," Simon Dent, director of blue investments at Mirova Natural Capital, told Reuters.</p><p>Even with slow investment, the blue economy is still expected to expand at twice the rate of the mainstream economy by 2030, Reuters reported. It already contributes $2.5tn a year in economic output, the report noted.</p><p>Current, upward <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/-innovation-blue-economy-2646147405.html" target="_self">shifts in blue economy investments are being driven by innovation</a>, a trend the UN hopes will continue globally for the benefit of all oceans and people.</p><p>In Israel, this push has successfully translated into investment in and innovation of global ports, shipping, logistics and offshore sectors. The "Startup Nation," as Israel is often called, has seen its maritime tech ecosystem grow "significantly" in recent years and expects that growth to "accelerate dramatically," <a href="https://itrade.gov.il/belgium-english/how-israel-is-becoming-a-port-of-call-for-maritime-innovation/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">iTrade</a> reported.</p><p>Driving this wave of momentum has been rising Israeli venture capital hub <a href="https://www.thedockinnovation.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">theDOCK</a>. Founded by Israeli Navy veterans in 2017, theDOCK works with early-stage companies in the maritime space to bring their solutions to market. The hub's pioneering efforts ignited Israel's maritime technology sector, and now, with their new fund, theDOCK is motivating these high-tech solutions to also address ESG criteria.</p><p>"While ESG has always been on theDOCK's agenda, this theme has become even more of a priority," Nir Gartzman, theDOCK's managing partner, told EcoWatch. "80 percent of the startups in our portfolio (for theDOCK's Navigator II fund) will have a primary or secondary contribution to environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria."</p><p>In a company presentation, theDOCK called contribution to the ESG agenda a "hot discussion topic" for traditional players in the space and their boards, many of whom are looking to adopt new technologies with a positive impact on the planet. The focus is on reducing carbon emissions and protecting the environment, the presentation outlines. As such, theDOCK also explicitly screens candidate investments by ESG criteria as well.</p><p>Within the maritime space, environmental innovations could include measures like increased fuel and energy efficiency, better monitoring of potential pollution sources, improved waste and air emissions management and processing of marine debris/trash into reusable materials, theDOCK's presentation noted.</p>
theDOCK team includes (left to right) Michal Hendel-Sufa, Head of Alliances, Noa Schuman, CMO, Nir Gartzman, Co-Founder & Managing Partner, and Hannan Carmeli, Co-Founder & Managing Partner. Dudu Koren<p>theDOCK's own portfolio includes companies like Orca AI, which uses an intelligent collision avoidance system to reduce the probability of oil or fuel spills, AiDock, which eliminates the use of paper by automating the customs clearance process, and DockTech, which uses depth "crowdsourcing" data to map riverbeds in real-time and optimize cargo loading, thereby reducing trips and fuel usage while also avoiding groundings.</p><p>"Oceans are a big opportunity primarily because they are just that – big!" theDOCK's Chief Marketing Officer Noa Schuman summarized. "As such, the magnitude of their criticality to the global ecosystem, the magnitude of pollution risk and the steps needed to overcome those challenges – are all huge."</p><p>There is hope that this wave of interest and investment in environmentally-positive maritime technologies will accelerate the blue economy and ESG investing even further, in Israel and beyond.</p>
- 14 Countries Commit to Ocean Sustainability Initiative - EcoWatch ›
- These 11 Innovations Are Protecting Ocean Life - EcoWatch ›
- How Innovation Is Driving the Blue Economy - EcoWatch ›