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Microplastics in gray whales: OSU study looks at toxins in diet

Recent research out of Oregon State University found micro plastics in some mega-fauna.

Scientists estimated gray whales off the Oregon Coast ingest between 6.5 and 21 million micro particles per day, including micro plastics and fibers from clothing. To get to that number, they looked at the micro-particles in two things: the tiny zooplankton that whales eat and the whale’s poop.

Susanne Brander is an associate professor at OSU. She said the effect of the toxins on whales isn’t known, but her research with fish and other organisms shows something called food dilution: “Which basically means that you have a false sense of fullness,” she told KLCC. “That presence of those particles in your gut, sends a signal that you’ve eaten something, and so you’re either not going to seek out additional prey items, or you might be less able to absorb the nutrients.”

Co-author Leigh Torres said, “It’s likely that humans are also getting a lot of microplastics from our own fish diet.”

Brander emphasized these toxins are just one of the factors affecting whale health. Other stressors include decreased biodiversity and increased boat traffic.

Micro particles have also been shown to get into the tissues of animals, and a study in rodents showed that the tiny plastics can upset the microbiome in just 24 hours.

Brander said one simple way to help is to require microfiber filters on washing machines. She said such a bill was introduced in Oregon this year, but it didn’t get out of committee. She said every time you do laundry, you’re producing millions of fibers from your clothing. When they go into the water treatment system, those microfibers either exit into the wastewater, or they become part of the sludge that’s converted into fertilizer.

First published July 3, 2023. Copyright 2023 KLCC. Reprinted with permission.


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