New information reveals that chemical contaminants, some linked to plastics, are being absorbed by sperm whales.
Plastic has the ability to degrade into smaller and smaller pieces that attract and adsorb surrounding toxins such as DDTs. When mistaken as food by smaller animals, the toxic plastic pieces can bioaccumulate and move up the food chain as larger and larger animals consume them.
Sperm whales, at the top of its food chain, are vulnerable to those toxins. Seven sperm whales were recently found stranded on a Mediterranean beach. The toxics absorbed and stored in their fat (including mercury, lead, and cadmium) were released as the whales became dehydrated. Necropsies also revealed plastic bags in their stomachs.
Toxins are also being absorbed through contaminated air. Chromium released by plants off the coast of Queensland are affecting sperm whales who pass by on their migration up and down the coast. The chemical is causing immune system malfunctions, reduced fertility, and birth defects.
Sperm whales are the deepest divers in the ocean and hunt for squid at 1000 meters below the surface. In order to make it that far, the whales breathe deeply at the surface and exchange all the carbon dioxide in their bodies for oxygen. During its deep descent, the whale’s body will actually change shape to make it more aerodynamic, and it will shut down body organs to conserve energy. The deep breathing of polluted air is another likely culprit to the contamination of the whales’ 65 feet long bodies.
Read an article on the research here.