Killer Whales Contaminated with Chemicals Associated with Unusual Products

Killer whales are among the most pol­lut­ed marine mam­mals in the world.

It’s full of chem­i­cals, includ­ing the high­ly tox­ic and car­cino­genic PCBs and the infa­mous pes­ti­cide DDT.

Now a group of sci­en­tists have dis­cov­ered anoth­er wor­ry­ing chem­i­cal asso­ci­at­ed with toi­let paper.

Sci­en­tists at the Uni­ver­si­ty of British Colum­bia, the British Colum­bia Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture and Food, and the Cana­di­an Depart­ment of Fish­eries and Oceans found 4‑nonylphenol, along with dozens of oth­er chem­i­cals, in the liv­er and bone tis­sue of 12 dead south­ern orca and gray whales. 4NP) was detected.

The chem­i­cal 4NP belongs to a group of chem­i­cals called alkylphe­nols, which UBC researcher Juan Jose Ala­va described to Insid­er as “extreme­ly toxic.”

Ala­va and oth­er researchers who spoke to Insid­er warned of the find­ings, although it’s too ear­ly to draw con­clu­sions about how 4NP affects killer whales.

The amounts of 4NP detect­ed in killer whales tend­ed to be high­est in blood-rich liv­er tis­sue, with one pup reach­ing an excep­tion­al­ly high level.

“These con­t­a­m­i­nants can fun­da­men­tal­ly affect repro­duc­tion and devel­op­ment, and there is a lot of evi­dence that they also affect cog­ni­tive func­tion and the ner­vous sys­tem,” said Ala­ba. I’m here. “That’s why we’re talk­ing here about pol­lu­tion that is harm­ful to the envi­ron­ment and the killer whale species.”

The exact source of 4NP affect­ing whales is unknown, said Ala­ba, who said the chem­i­cal is pri­mar­i­ly found in sewage sludge and sewage treat­ment plants. It is also used in deter­gents and cosmetics.

In addi­tion to 4NP, more than half of the pol­lu­tants found in killer whales belonged to chem­i­cals called PFAS, com­mon­ly referred to as “for­ev­er chem­i­cals” because they are dif­fi­cult to break down in the environment.

PFAS are found in trace amounts in drink­ing water, fish, and human blood, and are said to increase the risk of dis­eases such as can­cer and liv­er disease.

The study authors say this is the first time 7:3‑fluorotelomer car­boxylic acid, a type of PFAS, has been detect­ed in killer whales in the Pacif­ic Northwest.

Ala­va not­ed that 7:3 FTCA has nev­er been found in British Colum­bia before, which could sug­gest the con­t­a­m­i­nant is rout­ed through the food system.

Both Big­gs and South­erns are endan­gered, but South­erns are of par­tic­u­lar inter­est to sci­en­tists due to their increas­ing numbers.

In addi­tion to habi­tat loss, cli­mate change and fish­ing gear entan­gle­ment, south­ern killer whales are strug­gling to find food.

Over­fish­ing is the lack of food. And the envi­ron­men­tal con­t­a­m­i­nant is that even with food, it can be full of chem­i­cals. Because killer whales eat a lot, they tend to have high­er con­cen­tra­tions of chem­i­cals than small­er marine organisms.

South­ern­ers rely on Chi­nook salmon to sup­ple­ment their diet. The chem­i­cal found in the body means that Chi­nook salmon also has con­t­a­m­i­nants in its body, a warn­ing to salmon eaters as well.

But more than that, a lack of good food sup­plies is affect­ing killer whale repro­duc­tion, Deb­o­rah Giles, sci­en­tist and direc­tor of research at the non­prof­it Wild Orca, told Insider.

Accord­ing to Giles’ own research, 69% of preg­nan­cies in south­ern killer whales end in fail­ure, with 33% fail­ing at the end of preg­nan­cy or short­ly after giv­ing birth.

“Addi­tion­al­ly, females with­out calves are mal­nour­ished and exposed to more chem­i­cals,” explains Giles.

Chem­i­cals are also trans­ferred between moth­er and fetus. A UBC study test­ed a south­ern res­i­dent called J32 and found that all the chem­i­cals detect­ed in her were trans­ferred to the fetus. Giles said J32 died in 2014 while try­ing to give birth to a fetus.

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