For the first time in history, a wild marine fish species has been identified with skin cancer off the coast of Australia.
Caught on the Great Barrier Reef, coral trout have been discovered with large black spots on their skin, now identified as cancerous melanomas. One researcher documented that 15% of these fish found on the reef show signs of skin cancer. The percentage may even be higher due to the fact that some fish may have died due to illness or consumed by predators.
Researchers state that melanomas on the skin of these fish were likely due to the UV radiation and the closeness of the fish species to the hole in the ozone layer over parts of Antarctica and Australia. (No wonder I got “surfer’s eye” induced by extreme sun exposure in my year abroad in Australia..the sun really is MORE intense there!) Hence it is no wonder that Australia has the highest occurrence of skin cancer in the entire world. That boils down to the fact that 2 out of 3 Australians will be diagnosed before that age of 70. Very unfortunate…wear your sunscreen Aussies!
Alright back to the fish- the researchers from the Australian Institute of Marine Science were on the reef doing a survey of shark prey, i.e. coral trout. They saw the discoloration on the fish and after examining it under a microscope, discovered it was cancerous tumors.
“Studying disease in wild fish populations is very time-consuming and costly so it’s hard to say how long the disease has been around. However, what we do know is that it is now widespread in the coral trout population effecting three different species of this type of fish and we would not be surprised to find it in other species as well.” -Dr. Sweet
The fish were caught off of Heron Island (where I did research on tube worm larvae!) and One Tree Island – which make up the southern portion of the Great Barrier Marine Park. 136 fish were caught, resulting with 20 (15%) showing signs of skin cancer.
Even though this is just the first published report about fish with skin cancer, I’m sure the occurrence isn’t new. Some fishermen trace it back to as early as the 1980’s. The diagnosed fish didn’t show signs of illness, but that also doesn’t mean that many of them have already died from the cancer once it got invasive. Questions and answers are still yet to be answered pertaining to skin cancer in fish- I’ll try and keep you posted as best as I can on this issue.
WHAT IS NEXT?!