Can whales really teach us something about tanning and anti-aging?

whale-tanningAre you are like a blue whale or more like a sperm whale in your approach to suntanning?

The different way that those two whale-species react to UV-exposure might help scientists to find new anti-aging remedies. It can also teach you the best approach to a nice and safe tan without the side-effects of premature aging.

A team of marine biologists from UK, Canada, USA and Mexico studied whales reactions to UV-light during several years. Their work has now been published in the journal Scientific Reports.

blue-whale
Blue Whale

They found that the blue whale has a more long term approach to UV-exposure. The blue whale reacts by getting darker with UV exposure in the same way as humans get a tan.

sperm whale
Sperm Whale

The sperm whales, on the other hand, protect themselves from sunburn by changes in DNA after having got a sunburn.

Here is how the researchers behind the report describes their findings in an article in BBC News

“When blue whales go on their holidays to the Gulf of California they get a tan the same way we do,” Prof Mark Birch-Machin from Newcastle University told BBC News.

“And that tan protects blue whales from sunburnt DNA.”

Sperm whales have a different approach to the sun, says Prof Birch-Machin. They can spend up to six hours at a time on the surface of the ocean and have far greater exposure to UV light.

“They are akin to people going for the lobster approach – so changes in pigment aren't going to help them very much as the UV is overwhelming the system,” he said.

Instead of changes in their pigment, the sun triggers a stress response in the genes of these whales, which is similar to our own protective mechanism against sun damage.

“This is similar to the damage response caused by free radicals in human skin which is our protective mechanism against sun damage.”

The third species the scientists examined were fin whales. These deeply pigmented animals were found to be more resistant to sun damage, with the lowest prevalence of sunburn lesions.

The researchers hope that by seeing both changes in pigment and changes in genes, the whales may shed some light on the ageing process in humans.

“The sunburnt DNA we find in whales is the same sunburnt DNA we find in humans and that is definitely linked to ageing,” said Prof Birch-Machin.

“The study shows the interaction of systems that we can then examine further in human research, and that's got implications for anti-ageing and skin cancer approaches,” he said.

I believe that we already can draw some conclusions about how to tan from this study without having to wait for further research.

  1. The “blue whale tanning approach” is similar to the human variant of “occupational tanning”. This kind of non-burning, moderate but regular UV-exposure has been proven to give the best protection towards aging DNA damages. Human “blue whale tanners” also have a much lower risk of attracting the most dangerous skin-cancer, malign melanoma, than intermittent tanners.
  2. The “sperm whale tanning method” is the intermittent and strong practiced by most people when they travel on sunny holidays without first preparing their skin for the increased UV-exposure. The “emergency repair” of sunburn by DNA-changes (damage) leads to an increase of free radicals which promotes wrinkles and other skin-damage.

So follow the example of the largest animal on earth. Tan like a blue whale and not like a sperm whale!

Get regular, non-burning, doses of UV-exposure. A sunbed is the best, and sometimes the only, way to control your exposure to UV-light. Remember, for a nice golden skin as well as for plenty of vitamin D, you need less than half of the time it would take to get a sunburn (i.e. the maximum recommended time for your skin-type in a sunbed).

The ozone layer is not thinning (at least not where it matters for humans)

One of the assumptions and related reference in the “whale-study”, is made about that the depletion of the ozone-layer lead to increased UV-radiation, both for whales and humans.

The study referred to, “Ozone depletion and climate change: impacts on UV radiation”, contains some very interesting information about the real situation regarding the depletion of the ozone-layer. This might come handy when someone uses the argument of ozone-depletion as motivation for the increases of diagnoses in skin-cancer.

In the image below, you can see that the only sever depletion (with accompanying UV-increase) occurred in the Antarctis (60-90° South), starting from the 1980ies, peaked in 2000 and is now normalizing.

changes in sunburning clear-sky UV radiation

The measured depletion of the ozone-layer with consequent increase in UV-radiation, was the pretext of the sun scare campaign in Australia.

When you look at the image above, you should know that the most southern part of Australia (Tasmania) is located on South 43° and the most southern part of New Zealand on South 47°. That means well away from the so called “ozone-hole” over the Antarctic. The question is if the max 5% increase (and now declining) in the S 30-60° latitude-range really was enough to cause such a sun scare panic?

This is how the researchers write about the depletion of the ozone layer:

“Because of the success of the Protocol, increases in UV-B radiation have been small outside regions affected by the Antarctic ozone hole, and have been difficult to detect. There is a large variability in UV-B radiation due to factors other than ozone, such as clouds and aerosols. There are few long-term measurements available to confirm the increases that would have occurred as a result of ozone depletion. At mid-latitudes UV-B irradiances are currently only slightly greater than in 1980 (increases less than [similar]5%), but increases have been substantial at high and polar latitudes where ozone depletion has been larger.”

For manufacturers of sun-screen cosmetics, the whale-market could offer a great potential. Just imagine: “take 250 gallons of SPF 60 and apply every 2 hours (or more often if you are in water)!”. They just have to find some whale-friendly organization/government to pay for it. Maybe South-Wales in Australia might be interested to spend all the money they will save on reduced treatments of skin-cancer after having outlawed sunbeds?

24 thoughts on “What Whales Can Teach Us About Tanning”

  1. This is a common misunderstanding that aerosol sprays are the only factor in damaging ozone layer.although initially it was true but with the passage of time such content is removed from spray cans which was the cause of ozone layer damage.

  2. One other problem that wasn’t there in 1997/98 was the Oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. In 2012 the Gulf stream came to a halt after BP had a major oil spill and effectively sent it on a circular path upsetting the balance of the earths currents and weather patterns

  3. That’s fascinating that the blue whale reacts by getting darker just as humans do when tanning. Your research on marine biologists and their findings probably has all kinds of interesting implications for people as they tan.

  4. Wooh!

    That’s freaking awesome article!
    I didn’t know DNA we find in whales is the same sunburnt DNA we find in humans!

    Thanks for the informative article!

  5. Hi,
    Totally agreed with your post that vitamin D can help you dealing with sunburn.
    This is my third visit to your blog and it’s good to know that whales also know what is sunburn?
    Thanks for sharing.

  6. Wow, really interesting conclusion comes from observing whales. Didn’t know that the whales could get the same sunburn like humans.

    Thanks for the informative article

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  9. Hello, i live in dubai , last month i was on yachts cruise and saw a momma whale with a little whale. they both were awsome i enjoyed

  10. Please try to make this World Happy.
    I think blue whale is a game of killing but you written for this world nicely.

  11. RE: “blue whale tanning approach”
    Thanks for this interesting article. I didnt know blue whales are tanning similar to humans

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  13. I love this post. This article is very informative. I learned a lot about IT. Thanks and This is completely amazing! I love your ideas. Keep up the good work.

  14. Awesome article. Thank you so much for the great information very helpful

  15. Thanks for this interesting article. I didnt know blue whales are tanning similar to humans

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