New study: Microplastics found in all beached dolphins, whales, and seals

"Our findings are not good news," says Brendan Godley, of the University of Exeter.

New study: Microplastics found in all beached dolphins, whales, and seals
Photo credit:Joe Raedle / Newsmakers
  • 50 beached dolphins, whales, and seals were tested in Great Britain.
  • All had microplastics in their digestive tract — mostly in the stomach.
  • 84 percent were synthetic plastics; of those, 60 percent were nylon.

Scientists studied the bodies of dolphins, whales, and seals that washed ashore in the United Kingdom. Every single one of them had microplastics in them.

Sites where the animals had washed ashore

Nature.com

The University of Exeter and Plymouth Marine Laboratory (PML) examined the bodies of the animals and made the discovery. In all, 50 animals were studied, and they represented 10 distinct species of seals, whales, and dolphins.

"It is disconcerting that we have found microplastic in the gut of every single animal we have investigated in this study," said Dr. Penelope Lindeque, from PML.

The vast majority of the microplastics — 84 percent — were "synthetic" fibers, which come from washing synthetic clothing, fishing nets, and — gasp! — toothbrushes. The most prevalent particle type was nylon, at about 60 percent.

Types of microplastics found.

Nature.com

The rest were fragments (defined as smaller than 5 millimeters, or about 0.20 inches) from plastic bottles and other consumer packaging, runoff from tires and paint on roads, and more. Some enter the food chain via the fish that these animals feed on, such as mackerel — which have consumed the microplastics along the way themselves — in what's known as trophic transfer. In other words, not from directly ingesting plastic. Others enter the food chain when plankton eat tiny microbeads.

Previous research has led to the conclusion that organ damage is possible, depending on the animal involved and how much microplastic is consumed. Notably, pesticides are "attracted" the surfaces of plastic, which means they can build over time in the body of an animal that has ingested some of those plastics.

Sources of plastic that end up in the food chain.

Scientific American

In these cases, however, because the number of particles was relatively low, at a mean of 5.5 particles per animal, it's assumed that all would have passed through the animals. Notably, however, the stomach was the primary location of most of them, which means they linger there.

Still, this study at least sets a benchmark that future studies will build on.

"Marine mammals are ideal sentinels of our impacts on the marine environment, as they are generally long-lived and many feed high up in the food chain. Our findings are not good news," said Brendan Godley, of the University of Exeter.

3,000-pound Triceratops skull unearthed in South Dakota

"You dream about these kinds of moments when you're a kid," said lead paleontologist David Schmidt.

Excavation of a triceratops skull in South Dakota.

Credit: David Schmidt / Westminster College
Surprising Science
  • The triceratops skull was first discovered in 2019, but was excavated over the summer of 2020.
  • It was discovered in the South Dakota Badlands, an area where the Triceratops roamed some 66 million years ago.
  • Studying dinosaurs helps scientists better understand the evolution of all life on Earth.
Keep reading Show less

We're creating pigs with human immune systems to study illness

Are "humanized" pigs the future of medical research?

Surprising Science

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires all new medicines to be tested in animals before use in people. Pigs make better medical research subjects than mice, because they are closer to humans in size, physiology and genetic makeup.

Keep reading Show less

A new warning sign to predict volcanic eruptions?

Satellite imagery can help better predict volcanic eruptions by monitoring changes in surface temperature near volcanoes.

Volcano erupting lava, volcanic sky active rock night Ecuador landscape

Credit: Ammit via Adobe Stock
Surprising Science
  • A recent study used data collected by NASA satellites to conduct a statistical analysis of surface temperatures near volcanoes that erupted from 2002 to 2019.
  • The results showed that surface temperatures near volcanoes gradually increased in the months and years prior to eruptions.
  • The method was able to detect potential eruptions that were not anticipated by other volcano monitoring methods, such as eruptions in Japan in 2014 and Chile in 2015.
Keep reading Show less
Politics & Current Affairs

Moral and economic lessons from Mario Kart

The design of a classic video game yields insights on how to address global poverty.

Quantcast