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Whales Polluted with Heavy Metals.
Startling results from a study carried out over 5 years of almost 1,000 tissue samples, has exposed high levels of toxic heavy metals in the blubber of sperm whales.
Revealed at the recent International Whaling Commission’s annual meeting, biologist Roger Payne, president and founder of Ocean Alliance, which conducted the research, found levels of cadmium, aluminium, chromium, lead, silver, mercury and titanium are the highest found in marine mammals.
The scientists warn the health of both ocean life and the people who consume seafood could be at risk. Fish is a primary source of animal protein for one billion people.
Mr. Payne is quoted “These contaminants, I think, are threatening the human food supply. They are certainly threatening the whales and the other animals that live in the ocean”
“The entire ocean life is just loaded with a series of contaminants, most of which have been released by human beings” said Mr. Payne, who is best known for his discovery and recordings of songs by humpback whales in 1968 as well as his findings that some species of whales can communicate to each other over long distances.
Starting out in March, 2000 from San Diego in the ketch ‘Odyssey’ the object of the study was to document the health of the ocean by taking tissue samples from the sperm whales during their annual migration from the tropics to the poles.
By August 2005, 955 samples the size of a pencils eraser was collected using a dart gun that the animals barely noticed. The samples were then sent to marine toxicologist John Wise of the University of Southern Maine. The animals’ DNA was compared to ensure they were only tested once.
Remarkably, the study of the heavy metals was an after thought as the main purpose of the research was to measure chemicals known as persistent organic pollutants.
It has been deduced that the contaminants in the whales’ blubber had formed in the Polar Regions suggesting the animals had absorbed the metals far from where they were emitted. This shows that pollution is reaching to the ends of the oceans and every where in-between. The contaminants were most likely carried by wind and currents.
“When you are working with a synthetic chemical which never existed in nature before and you find it in a whale which came from the Arctic or Antarctic, it tells you that was made by people and it got into the whale” said Mr. Payne, who went on to say “The biggest surprise was chromium”
Used in stainless steel, paints, dyes and the tanning of leather, chromium is a corrosion-resistant material found to cause cancer in people who work in the industries where it is commonly used.
John Wise found the chromium concentrations in the whale tissue were several times higher the levels required to kill healthy cells in a Petri dish.