New Research Suggests That Most Marine Mammals Are Consuming Microplastics, Some Of Which Are Moving Beyond The Digestive System And Becoming Embedded In The Tissues Of Various Species

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A recent study conducted by researchers from Duke University Marine Lab has found that most marine mammals, such as whales and dolphins, are consuming microplastics.

These tiny plastic fragments, which are often too small to see, were found inside the bodies of these creatures. This indicates that microplastics can move beyond the digestive system and become embedded in the tissues of various species.

The findings highlight a worrying trend regarding the wider impact of marine pollution. Despite the precise harm from these embedded microplastics remaining unclear, earlier research suggests that plastics might interfere with the hormonal systems of marine mammals, mimicking and disrupting their endocrine functions.

“This is an extra burden on top of everything else they face: climate change, pollution, noise, and now they’re not only ingesting plastic and contending with the big pieces in their stomachs but they’re also being internalized,” said Greg Merrill Jr., one of the study’s authors.

“Some proportion of their mass is now plastic.”

For the study, the team examined samples from 32 marine creatures, covering 12 different species, collected in California, North Carolina, and Alaska between 2000 and 2021. Each of these animals showed traces of plastic in their tissues.

Since plastics have a natural affinity for fats, given that they’re lipophilic, they tend to adhere to the fatty tissues of marine animals, including the blubber and parts of toothed whales crucial for sound reception and production.

The research detected plastics in the blubber, fat pads, lungs, and sound-producing areas of these creatures.

The particles measured between 198 and 537 microns in size, whereas human hair typically has a width of around 100 microns. Beyond the chemical dangers, Merill also highlighted the physical harm that marine animals could encounter, noting that these plastics can cause tearing and abrasion in tissues.

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