Open mouthed feeders being poisoned by plastic polluted water

By: Clare Fischer
Date posted: 6 February 2018

A new study in the journal Trends in Ecology and Evolution says sharks, whales and rays could be swallowing hundreds of tiny bits of plastic a day and that particles measuring less than 5mm can create serious health risks for filter-feeding marine creatures.

Whale_Shark Feeding
© Leigh Morris

This research highlights what MCS have been saying for some time that microplastics will be affecting all sea life from those at the bottom of the food chain up to our largest creatures such as whales and rays.

Dr Sue Kinsey,
MCS Senior Pollution Policy Officer

The study says that not only will their digestive tracts become blocked, plastic-associated chemicals can build up over time causing development and reproduction problems in some of the oceans largest creatures.

Researchers from the US, Australia and Italy looked at data on threats to large filter feeders from microplastics.

“The full magnitude of risks of ingesting microplastics are yet to be fully investigated,” said lead author Elitza Germanov of Murdoch University, Australia, and researcher at the US Marine Megafauna Foundation.

Another of the paper’s authors is Professor Maria Cristina Fossi from Italy’s University of Siena: “Our studies on whale sharks in the Sea of Cortez and on fin whales in the Mediterranean Sea confirmed exposure to toxic chemicals, indicating that these filter feeders are taking up microplastics in their feeding grounds,

“Exposure to these plastic-associated toxins poses a major threat to the health of these animals since it can alter the hormones which regulate the body’s growth and development, metabolism, and reproductive functions, among other things.”

The study says that large filter feeders, many of which are “charismatic and economically important species”, should be prioritised for further research into risks from microplastics.

Dr Sue Kinsey, MCS Senior Pollution Policy Officer, said: “This research highlights what MCS have been saying for some time - that microplastics will be affecting all sea life from those at the bottom of the food chain up to our largest creatures such as whales and rays. It adds to the urgency of our calls for action now before it is too late and our seas are swamped with plastic pollution.”

Whale sharks feeding in the Sea of Cortez off Mexico’s Baja Peninsula, are thought to ingest under 200 pieces of plastic per day – they’re listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List.

Fin whales in the Mediterranean Sea are thought to be swallowing closer to 2,000 microplastic particles per day.

MCS is currently calling on UK governments to put a charge on single-use plastic throwaway items and demanding that big fast food chains stop giving out millions of plastic cups, stirrers, straws and cutlery but instead replace them with reusable or fully compostable alternatives.

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