- The Moray Firth dolphins, one of only
two resident populations in Britain, are suffering from severe skin disease,
a worldwide study has found.
- Some of the animals have two thirds of
the visible parts of their bodies covered in lesions, while in others the
normally smooth dark skin has turned orange or is pitted like corroded
- A scientific survey of 10 other groups
of the same species, the bottlenose dolphin, Tursiops truncatus, has found
that there are some skin irregularities in all of them, but that the Scottish
animals, on which a tourist trade in the Inverness area is based, are by
far the most seriously affected. Nearly all the 130 animals in the colony
- The research, to be published in the
Proceedings of the Royal Society, has so far found no link between the
skin disease and pollution, but may indicate one with water temperature
- The Moray Firth dolphins are the most
northerly resident group of the species in the world and live in colder
and less saline water than any others. "They are a group on the edge,"
said Paul Thompson, a senior lecturer in zoology at Aberdeen University,
who leads the study of them with a colleague from the University of St
Andrews, Ben Wilson.
- The researchers have so far been unable
to detect the agent causing the skin disease - whether it is a virus, bacterium
or fungus - or whether it is affecting the dolphins' behaviour. As wild
dolphins are so difficult to study, they cannot even detect whether it
is causing them discomfort. But it is certainly ugly in appearance. "Some
of them do look pretty grotesque," Mr Thompson said.
- The disease came to light when the Scottish
researchers began photographing and studying the dorsal fins of individual
dolphins in order to recognise them. They then organised the worldwide
survey to see if it was prevalent elsewhere.
- Bottlenose colonies were studied in Portugal,
Ireland, Brittany, Croatia, the United States and New Zealand, as well
as Britain's other resident colony in Cardigan Bay in Wales, and a smaller
number of animals off the Cornish coast. All were found to have some skin
- The Cardigan Bay animals were also quite
badly affected, but the dolphins of the Moray Firth were by far the worst
- "It is a cause for concern, as this
is a very small colony, and it highlights their vulnerability," Mr
- The Moray Firth animals have already
been observed exhibiting unusual behaviour as well as unusual skin conditions
- they are known to attack and kill porpoises, apparently from sheer aggression,
and last year it was revealed that they have even attacked their own young.
But no connection can so far been drawn between the two phenomena, Mr Thompson