[MARMAM] Do cetaceans self-medicate? Information sought

Ben Wilson Ben.Wilson at sams.ac.uk
Wed Mar 12 03:18:21 PDT 2008

Dear colleagues 
Primates do it, so why not cetaceans?  "Self-medication" is a behavioral tactic to avoid or suppress disease or parasites & symptoms thereby enhancing health or reproductive fitness. 

Primates have a variety of behavioral tactics to 1) avoid disease transmission by avoiding contact with fecal material 2) consuming food with bioactive (medicinal) properties 3) eating non-nutritive materials to remove gut parasites or 4) apply plant extracts or insects to remove ectoparasites. So do cetaceans have marine equivalents? Do they avoid particularly diseased or parasitized prey? Consume material with specific medicinal properties or non-nutritive substances to purge gut parasites? Do they visit fish cleaning stations to rid themselves of ectoparasites? 

We would be interested to hear from anyone with any information (published, gray or anecdotal) that would help identify cetacean behaviors that might qualify as self-medication. 

Best wishes, 

Ben Wilson & Mike Huffman
Scottish Association for Marine Science & Primate Research Institute, Kyoto University.  Please direct replies to ben.wilson at sams.ac.uk 

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