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Originally published October 21 2008

How organochlorine pollutants end up in whales

by Lynn Berry

(NaturalNews) Some chemicals, such as DDT, that were banned many years ago persist in the environment even in places where there are no human inhabitants or no known chemical use. They are contaminating what used to be considered pristine environments, and are being found in wildlife.

These chemicals are known as persistent organochlorine pollutants or POP. Along with DDT, they include industrial chemicals, PCB's and dioxins. Studies in the Antartic of humpback whales have found concentrations of POP in fat blubber. Likely explanations of this are to do with the food chain.

First, here's an explanation of just how POP could occur in the Antartic. POP's slowly evaporate into the atmosphere or the air. Then the air moves around and when the temperature changes, for example, from cold to hot, or hot to cold, the chemicals condense out of the air. The chemicals return to the environment and that's where they stay.

If the chemicals are absorbed by ice, then when the ice melts, the chemicals may go to the seabed or are absorbed in some way by the krill.

The humpback whales are most likely to have accumulated the chemicals by eating krill. Researcher Dr Nash (of The National Research Centre for Environmental Toxicology, The University of Queensland (1)) is responsible for the current study of contamination in humpback whales.

She found high concentrations of over hundred different types of POP in krill. Krill is at the base of the food chain in the Antartic. If you remove the krill, many species would not survive. Humpback whales eat two tonnes of krill a day.

In the breeding season, the humpbacks travel 10,000 kilometres from the Antartic to warmer waters relying only on body fat. It is logical to assume that the quality of the body fat or blubber will determine how well they make the return trip. Since the whale has to use the blubber as a food source, the chemicals within the fat are unlocked and carried around the bloodstream.

The concern is that the organochlorines, which are neurotoxins, will impact on the movement and reproductive systems, and that this could affect the breeding of whales.

While the study has yet to be completed, trials were carried out on the behaviour of krill in solutions containing algae contaminated with DDE (a break-down product of DDT). It was evident that the schooling behaviour of the krill was impacted and this could have consequences for the survival of the species and thus other species.


About the author

Lynn Berry is passionate about personal development, natural health care, justice and spirituality. She has a website at

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