Sperm Whales Are Chock Full of Deadly Metals Found In Human Food Supplies

sperm whale tail photo

Photo by Strange Ones via Flickr CC

After five years of collecting tissue samples of sperm whales, researchers have found that the mammals harbor an incredibly high level of deadly toxins, including cadmium, aluminum, chromium, lead, silver, mercury and titanium. The medley of metals could mean disaster for the species -- whale cows can pass the fat-soluble toxins straight to their calves through nursing -- as well as illustrate the dangers present for human food supplies pulled from the oceans. According to CBS News American scientists tested nearly 1,000 sperm whales over five years and showed that pollution has hit every corner of the planet. Biologist Roger Payne, founder and president of Ocean Alliance, shows little optimism for the oceans and the living things that depend on it.

"The entire ocean life is just loaded with a series of contaminants, most of which have been released by human beings," Payne said. "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. You could make a fairly tight argument to say that it is the single greatest health threat that has ever faced the human species. I suspect this will shorten lives, if it turns out that this is what's going on," he said.

VIEW SLIDESHOW: Photographer Gets Within Inches of Whales

The contaminants found in whales were ingested in the Arctic or Antarctic, far from the source of pollution, which means that wind and ocean currents have carried the poisons to far reaches of the globe, and they've entered the food chain. The sperm whales, an apex predator in the ocean, held "jaw-dropping concentrations" of the contaminants, including chromium which, according to Payne, the researchers weren't expecting to find. The material is used in stainless steel, paints, and leather tanning, and it was found in the whales at shocking levels. And since sperm whales eat many of the same varieties of fish as humans, including cod, their contamination reflects what humans can expect to see in our own fish supplies.

This $5 million project is the most comprehensive report on ocean pollutants ever done, reports PhysOrg. It shows that much more research is needed to uncover what these findings could mean for human food supplies. About 1 billion of the earth's human inhabitants rely on fish as a primary protein source, so ocean contaminants found at these concentrations is frightening news.

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More on Whales and Pollution
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