This spectacle aroused the curiosity of biologist Angela Ziltener during her dives in the Egyptian Red Sea: dolphins rub against corals and sponges. Together with an interdisciplinary research team, she examined the behavior of whales and cnidarians – with astonishing results.

Watch the video: Dolphins rub against corals – apparently they use the cnidarians as medicine.

This spectacle aroused the curiosity of the biologist Angela Ziltener during her dives in the Egyptian Red Sea: a group of Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins gathers around corals and sponges. One by one they rub their bodies on the cnidarians. The researcher from the University of Zurich and a team from different disciplines have now examined the various coral and sponge species. They found that the observed invertebrates could help the dolphins against skin infections. This is indicated by various chemical compounds with antibacterial components in the cells of corals and sponges. The scientists also documented how the dolphins glided through the water with pieces of coral in their mouths. They covered their snouts and skin with the particles. Another video shows juvenile bottlenose dolphins watching the adults rubbing on the coral. The researchers suspect that the adult animals teach the young animals the behavior in this way. Further studies are needed to find out whether the whales can actually treat themselves medically and even heal themselves by rubbing the reef. The study always offers a first indication that the animals are doing this: “The interdisciplinary study (…) underlines the importance of individual invertebrates in coral reefs and the urgent need to protect coral reefs for dolphins and other species,” write the authors in her paper.

What: iScience

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