Some species of whales experience sunburn and very similar responses to ultraviolet radiation that humans do according to new research conducted by Mark Birch-Machin, Professor of Molecular Dermatology at Newcastle University, and Karina Acevedo-Whitehouse, Senior Lecturer at the Universidad Autónoma de Querétaro, Mexico, that was published in the journal Scientific Reports on Aug. 30, 2013.
The researchers followed three species of whales for three years during the whale’s annual migration in April and February up the coast of western Mexico into the Gulf of California.
The three species of whales studied - blue, sperm, and fin - demonstrated different reactions to increased sun exposure. The reactions to sun were in part dependent on the coloration of the whale. Most notably the detrimental effects of too much ultraviolet radiation were found to be the same in whales as it is in humans.
Blue whales suffered mitochondrial DNA damage from too much ultraviolet light exposure that is very similar to human sunburn. Blue whales have light skin pigmentation.
Sperm whales have darker skin pigmentation than blue whales but demonstrated a free radical response to sunburn that is the same as in humans.
Fin whales are very darkly pigmented and showed no skin damage from the sun.
Sunburn in whales can result in skin cancer just like in humans.