An investigation uncovered a disturbing level of toxic chemicals in stranded marine mammals across waters in the United Kingdom, raising concerns among experts.
According to the Guardian, “nearly half” of the whales and dolphins found over the past five years contained harmful concentrations of PCBs, a group of human-made organic chemicals that are considered highly dangerous due to their inability to degrade easily.
Researchers discovered that orcas stranded in the UK contained 30 times the concentration of PCBs at which the animals would begin to experience adverse effects. The species with the highest levels of PCB concentration were orcas, bottle-nosed dolphins, and white-beaked dolphins.
Why is this concerning?
Scientists said the discovery should raise concerns not only about the future of marine mammal health but human health as well.
“This is a huge wake-up call,” said Dr. Rosie Williams, lead author and researcher from the Zoological Society of London’s Institute of Zoology. “We rely on the same ecosystem for some of our own food — so these findings ring alarm bells not only for the future of marine life but indicate a risk to human health also.”
Studies have found that high PCB concentrations have led to a significant decline in European cetacean populations. A 2018 report warned that orcas near industrialized areas could be at risk of population collapse.
It was also noted that the majority of PCBs were banned decades ago, so the fact that they’re showing up in marine mammals indicates an alarming trend.
“It’s been over 20 years since several of these chemicals were banned globally, yet we still see concerningly high concentrations in wildlife,” Williams said. “Although concentrations of the pollutants seem to be declining, our findings reveal that in many species they are still present at levels associated with negative effects on the immune and reproductive systems.”
What’s being done about it?
Williams called for urgent action to protect the marine environment from historical and emerging pollutants.
Plastic pollution has long been a threat to marine life because of the harmful effects it causes to animals that ingest it. However, plastic pollution has also threatened land animals as well, as research discovered a significant amount of plastic waste inside the stomachs of dead camels.
Understanding how to recycle properly and reducing the reliance on single-use plastics by utilizing things like reusable water bottles can help curb the issue of plastic pollution in waters all over the world.
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