Vital Nature: Pollution, otters and whales

813411_sperm_whale_6Since the “save the whales” movement popularized and trending onwards from around the ‘70s, a large chunk of environmental attention has been paid to both marine and fresh water creatures. Within the past 50 years or so, our own North Pacific Ocean has yielded a rapid marine mammalian population decrease. This attention has often been presented as mere attention and often lacks subsequent action and preventative measures. Though there have of course been many partisans to marine creatures and protests against unfit and thoughtless slaughter, at-home preventative practices are just as fundamental to the health of our oceans.

The quick devastation of at least half a million great whales from the North Pacific by invasive industrial whaling about half a century ago may have encouraged a complex ecological chain reaction that has since rippled resoundingly from ocean to coast ecosystems. A paper from October 2003 was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by a team of eight scientists, one of which was Jim Estes, a United States Geological Survey research ecologist and adjunct professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz. The report claimed that when the number of great whales grew scant, their foremost organic predators, killer whales, resorted to a diet consisting of marine animals lower on the food chain. Their “fishing down” on the food chain caused notable decreases of harbor seals, northern fur seals, Steller sea lions and sea otters.

Whaling in no way has acted alone to despoil the once thriving life of the ocean.  The devastation the life of the water is experiencing is not solely a consequence of what we take from it, but largely what we put in it. The effects chemical pollutants waste toxins as well as accidental sewage leaks and oil spills into massive bodies of water are pillaging the oceans.

Around the world, the fundamental vitality and health of sea animals is proving to be steadily lapsing. One of the most eminent of such examples is exhibited through otters, who are a fantastic “indicator species,” as claimed by Countryfile director Ann Jones, who has been following urban otters in Bristol, England, for years. Endocrine disrupting chemicals are the most prevalent of culprits and have circulated their hormone-disrupting effects distinctly within the otter species.

A majority of the local otters had reproductive issues, as a potential effect of chemicals in the waterways, according to scientists in England and Wales. A study funded by the Environmental Agency shared that there has been a decrease in the weight of otters’ baculums (penis bones), and a decline of the number of annual offspring.  Other problems persist in the male otters as well, including an increase in undescended tesicles and cysts on sperm-carrying tubes.

So, with less potent males, fertility rates begin to plummet. Otters and whales are not the only animals that yield the effects of human carelessness and inaction. If the leaked chemicals are indeed the issue here, then it is only a matter of time before our careless waste disposal becomes and even bigger issue than it currently is, affecting each interconnected life-form. If we don’t change our practices, if we don’t quit flushing drugs down the toilet or leaking radioactive ooze into the ground, the effects of our actions will catch up with us and hit us smack in the cerebellum. We can’t now understand and gauge the effects and complications because we haven’t been exposed to the chemicals and radioactivity we currently are. We are being by being subjected to these events and exposure that surround us now, and the implications they yield will guide future generations to avoid either our mistakes or successes.