Whales and sharks: victims of microplastic

A study revealed that these animals that filter the water to feed are being affected by small plastic particles

Whales and sharks: victims of microplastic

The humpback whale or the peregrine shark have a very similar feeding method. Both species absorb large amounts of water and then filter it to obtain the plankton. So, in order to feed themselves, they must swallow hundreds of thousands of cubic meters of water per day. However, according to a recent study in the journal Trends in Ecology & Evolution, these species are ingesting large amounts of microplastic. Due to its feeding, both the humpback whale and the peregrine shark are swallowing the water plastic and trying to filter it. By filtering it, this plastic would be intoxicating the animals.

Professor Maria Cristina Fossi, from the University of Siena in Italy, assured the British newspaper The Independent that "our studies of whale sharks in the Sea of ​​Cortez and of the fin whale in the Mediterranean Sea confirmed exposure to toxic chemicals, indicating that these filter feeders are swallowing microplastic".  This microplastic refers to small pieces of plastic that measure less than 5 millimeters and are found in almost the entire ocean. These come mainly from microspheres that are added to health and beauty products or from the decomposition of larger plastics.

Elitza Germaniov, a researcher at the Marine Megafauna Foundation and co-author of the study, said that "despite the research on microplastics in the marine environment, there are very few studies that examine the effects of large filter feeders (some whales and sharks). We are still trying to understand the magnitude of this problem, and it is not clear yet what the potential for damage to the microplastic can be in reducing the number of marine species, many of which are long-lived and have few offspring throughout their lives".

These plastic microparticles are one of the main sources of pollution that are affecting the seas and marine fauna

According to the study, microplastic can contain toxic substances that can accumulate inside the animals and prevent them from being able to properly absorb the nutrients they need. These plastic microparticles are one of the main sources of pollution that affects the seas and marine fauna. Recently there have been evidence of plastic islands in Latin America, which are also a great enemy of sea turtles, who usually ingest these elements.

"Exposing these toxins associated with plastic can be a great threat to the health of these animals because it can alter their hormones, which regulate growth, development, metabolism and reproductive functions, among others", said Professor Fossi. The study examined the bodies of whales stranded on beaches and found large amounts of plastic in their gills, but the damage caused by small particles is much less obvious, but with similar consequences.

According to the UN, every year more than 8 million tons of plastic reach the sea 

The problem does not seem to have an early solution. The United Nations revealed a study in April 2017, which revealed that each year more than 8 million tons of plastic reach the sea. The UN also warns that if the use of plastic continues, in the ocean there will be more plastic than fish in 2050.


Latin American Post | Santiago Gómez Hernández

Copy edited by Laura Rocha Rueda



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