Chemical-Laden Dolphins Show Us Where It's Unsafe to Fish

dolphins spinning photo

Photo by jurvetson via Flickr CC

We might be able to take a cue from whales and dolphins on where to hang "Do Not Fish" signs. While researchers have known for awhile now that the blubber of these animals contain toxins, they're now seeing the those whales and dolphins living near urban areas have higher concentrations. Data collected from pods from different regions could tell us more about the safety level of fish we're pulling from certain areas. According to Discovery News, the research can not only help illuminate how the toxins are affecting the animals' health, but can also reveal possible threats to human health since dolphins eat the same fish as humans.

"Dolphins are a nice barometer in some ways for understanding contamination of the immediate environment," said John Kucklick, a research biologist at the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Charleston, S.C. "If you're concerned about human-health impacts from seafood, that's something to keep an eye on. They're an indicator of what people might be exposed to."

While it's a disturbing thought, it makes a lot of sense. Because dolphins are apex predators and eat fish higher up on the food chain, the contaminants consumed by small fishbecome increasingly concentrated as they're consumed by medium fish, then larger fish, and finally dolphins and whales. Now, the blubber of dolphins and whales are packed with PCBs, flame retardants and even DDT, all of which have been linked to cancer, neurological damage, reproductive harm and other problems. If we're seeing the concentrations in animals that share our food source, it's time to take a closer look at our own consumption of that food.

Researchers looked at bottlenose dolphins which tend to stick to a particular range. Those near urban areas, particularly polluted urban areas, showed far higher concentrations of contaminants. The same type of research was done on beluga whales in Alaska, and similar results were found showing concentrations of PFCs. Animals higher up on the food chain typically suffer the most, from polar bears to humans.

While the study reveals that we want to take a closer look at the source of our fish, there is a much larger take-away here. We have to look how the toxins end up in the food chain in the first place. It's far better to stop the problem at the source -- in this case the use of chemicals known to impact the environment and the animals in it, including humans -- than to try and avoid the effects of releasing those chemicals.

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