Toxic metals threaten whales

Agadir – American scientists who spent five years shooting nearly 1 000 sperm whales with tissue-sampling darts discovered stunningly high levels of toxic heavy metals in the animals on their voyage, according to a report obtained on Thursday.

The levels of cadmium, aluminium, chromium, lead, silver, mercury and titanium together are the highest ever found in marine mammals, the scientists say, warning that the health of both ocean life and the people who consume seafood could be at risk.

Analysis of cells from the sperm whales showed pollution is reaching the farthest corners of the oceans, from deep in the polar region to “the middle of nowhere” in the equatorial regions, said biologist Roger Payne, founder and president of Ocean Alliance that conducted the research.

“The entire ocean life is just loaded with a series of contaminants, most of which have been released by human beings,” Payne said in an interview on the sidelines of the International Whaling Commission’s annual meeting.

“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,” he said.

Ultimately, he said, they could contaminate fish that are a primary source of animal protein for 1 billion people.

US Whaling Commissioner Monica Medina informed the 88 member nations of the whaling commission of the report and urged the commission to conduct further research.

“This provides new and very important information about the hazards and the problem of these sorts of contaminants in the ocean, both for the whales and their habitat,” Medina told the audience of hundreds of government officials, marine scientists and environmentalists.

The report “is right on target” for raising issues critical to humans as well as whales, said Medina.

“We need to know much more about these problems.”

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