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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