Blue whales are “canaries” for consuming microplastics, a study finds

The largest animals on Earth are having their health jeopardized by some of the smallest man-made objects. A new study has found that filter baleen off the coast of California ingest millions of pieces of microplastic every day, a consumption that could be toxic.

Plastic pollution is a problem that has continued to plague the environment, particularly the ocean. Earlier this year, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) released a report claiming that the world produces “twice as much plastic as it did two decades ago,” and much of it. disperses into the environment. According to the group, OECD countries, including the United States, account for 35% of microplastic losses, an effect that is a “serious concern”.

The researchers took water samples off the coast of California to determine how much microplastic was infiltrating the water where the baleen feeds. / Credit: Matteo Savoca

This problem is only expected to worsen over the next few decades, and large marine animals may be at “extreme risk” of ingesting these plastics, which are tiny synthetic polymers less than 5 millimeters long, about the size of a rubber on a new one, according to the researchers. pencil.

In a study published Tuesday in Nature Communications, researchers said the highest concentrations of these microplastics are between 50 and 250 meters (164 to 820 feet) below the ocean’s surface, the same depths in which they predominantly feed. the baleen. The whales – including the 29 fin whales, 126 blue whales, and humpback whales that the researchers studied off the coast of California – are filter feeders, meaning that instead of chewing fish, most of their diet comes from eating large sips of water and from ingesting the numerous small animals inside, namely the krill.

The researchers studied the whales from 2010 to 2019, mainly around Monterey Bay, to better understand how much plastic they were ingesting. They found that krill-eating whales are exposed to significantly more pollution from microplastics.

“They’re not just eating individual prey. And so maybe they can get a lot of their plastic by simply filtering water from polluted or prey that had previously eaten plastic,” Matthew Savoca, one of the study’s authors, told CBS News.

Savoca said the researchers believe that “98-99% of all the plastic they are ingesting” comes from their prey rather than directly from the water itself.

Among the whales included in the study are blue whales, the largest animals on the planet, which can weigh up to 330,000 pounds, grow up to 110 feet in length, and live to be around 90 years old. In what Savoca described as a conservative estimate, members of this species along the California coast were found to consume about 10 million pieces of microplastic – up to 96 pounds – every day, “or maybe even more.”

A whale that feeds primarily on fish, on the other hand, consumes about 200,000 pieces per day, according to the study.

Savoca noted, however, that whales are variable in their eating habits and “may not eat for days, weeks, or even months,” particularly when breeding.

“The whales either eat a huge amount of food, or they don’t eat at all, and they can switch back and forth quite impressively,” he said.

The researchers, led by Ph.D. candidate Shirel Kahane-Rapport, were able to determine these numbers by cross-examining estimates of how much microplastic pollution It is in the regions they analyzed, how much plastic is consumed by krill and how much krill is consumed by whales.

Most microplastics come from semi-synthetic fibers of clothing, furniture, ropes, and other materials.

“It is worth stating that these blue whales, for example, could eat 10, 15 or even 20 tons of food per day. So, the amount of plastic they are eating versus the amount of food they are eating is miniscule,” he said. Savoca. “That doesn’t mean it’s not important or dangerous.”

Researchers fear that even if plastic ingestion is small compared to what animals eat, it could still have a toxic impact.

Plastic is made with chemical additives, Savoca said, and while many of these additives can spread in ocean water, many more remain on the pieces of plastic that are ingested. Many pieces of plastic also become a “cocktail of contaminants” as other contaminants in the water stick to the pieces, he said.

It is still not entirely clear how this plastic interacts with the digestive system of animals, although it is the subject of research.

“The amount of plastic that we have found these whales could ingest suggests that perhaps these toxins could have effects that we are not yet well aware of,” he said. “Not just for whales, but other plastic-eating animals as well … This is by no means an exclusive program for whales; at this point it is almost universal.”

Some microplastics are even smaller than 5 millimeters, he said, and have been shown to be able to pass through the intestinal wall and into the tissues of the human body. Scientists have discovered microplastics in human feces in 2018 and earlier this year, in lung tissue. Savoca said it has also been detected in human placenta, breast milk and blood.

“This is the world we all live in and these same problems are talking about a whale … we are too,” he said. “… This is a problem where animals act in some way like sentinels. They are canaries in the coal mine for these ecosystems and these food webs and food chains that we too are a part of.”

The suspicion of Pelosi’s attack would have wanted to take the speaker of the House hostage

Crime is at the heart of election campaigns and medium-term voters

Hidden Dangers: Because the government can’t always warn you of potentially dangerous products

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *