Researchers found that all 50 marine mammals they tested had microplastics in their system. It’s still unclear how microplastics and the chemicals in them affects animals, but it’s clear that plastic waste is affecting them.
Microplastics In Marine Mammals
Researchers from the University of Exeter and Plymouth Marine Laboratory examined 50 marine mammals from 10 species of dolphins, seals, and whales, and found that all of them were contaminated with microplastics. Of the microplastics they found, 84 percent were synthetic fibers which can actually come from various sources such as toothbrushes, clothes, and fishing nets. Meanwhile the rest of the plastics were found to be fragments possible from food packaging or plastic bottles.
The animals researchers tested had died from various causes, from infections to injuries, but they found that those who died of infectious diseases had more particles than those who died from injuries or other causes. That said, the particles they found in each animal was considered low, and they surmise that this might be because the plastics can be regurgitated or pass through the digestive system eventually.
Marine Mammal Health
According to lead author Sarah Nelms, the results were shocking but that it was not surprising to find that marine mammals get to ingest microplastics from plastic wastes. So far, despite their findings, the team cannot draw conclusions regarding the potential implications of microplastics on marine mammals’ health.
“Their small size means they may easily be expelled, but while microplastics are unlikely to be the main threat to these species, we are still concerned by the impact of the bacteria, viruses and contaminants carried on the plastic,” said Dr. Penelope Lindeque of Plymouth Marine Laboratory, also noting that the result of their study shows the need to reduce plastic waste in waters.
Over the years, the scientists have found microplastics in nearly all of the species they tested.
The study is published in Scientific Reports.