Human-caused pollution, including deadly toxins and heavy metals, are reaching into the farthest corners of the ocean and into the systems of the largest creatures on earth. A report released this week reveals high levels of cadmium, aluminum, chromium, lead, silver, mercury and titanium in the tissues of whales from around the globe gathered over five years. Roger Payne, the American scientist who headed the research with the Ocean Alliance, has been studying whales for decades.
“The biggest surprise was chromium,” Payne said. “That’s an absolute shocker. Nobody was even looking for it.” Metals like chromium, a known carcinogen used in steel, paints, dyes and leather tanning, was present in over 99% of the 1,000 tissue samples taken from cetaceans around the world.
Even if you didn’t care about whales, the fact remains that they are at the top of the food chain, a reflection of what all of the other creatures are consuming, in even the most remote waters. The fish that some whales eat are also consumed by people—one billion of whom count fish as their primary protein source–and the consequences cannot be avoided. “The entire ocean life is just loaded with a series of contaminants, most of which have been released by human beings,” Payne was quoted as saying while attending the recent annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission. “These contaminants, I think, are threatening the human food supply. They certainly are threatening the whales and the other animals that live in the ocean.”
This is not the first study that has noted the accumulation of contaminants and toxins in whales. An article in The Scientist in 1999 about the accumulation of cadmium in bowhead whales quoted biologist Thomas Goodwin of the NASA Johnson Space Center: “We’re beginning to see a pattern that’s really scary. This is a wake-up call. We’ve got to stop and think about what it is we’re doing to our planet. These whales are at the top of their food chain, and they’re picking up these contaminants from what they’re eating–krill, shrimp, plankton, and all those things, some of which we eat.”
A wakeup call in 1999. We’ve just had another from this study–not to mention the Gulf oil spill, whose effects will be working their way through the food chain for decades. How many wakeup calls will it take?
Take Action: Besides polluting the ocean habitat of whales and other creatures, humans persist in hunting them. Sign the Care2 petition to Close the Whaling Loophole
Photo: sanc0605, NOAA's Sanctuaries Collection