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Banned Chemical Linked To Reduced Fertility Of Harbour Porpoise

First Posted: Jul 22, 2015 04:26 PM EDT
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New findings published in PLOS ONE examine the ongoing danger to the harbor porpoises (Phocoena phocoena), who are struggling to successfully reproduce as a result of chemical pollutants lurking in European waters.

Researchers found that polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), a chemical previously used in industrial equipment, including electrical components and even certain paints, actually accumulates in the fat tissue of dolphins, porpoises and whales, staying inside their bodies throughout their entire lifespan. This, in turn, typically results in a weakened immune system and an inability to properly breed. What's even worse is that UK harbor porpoise calves are likely to inherit any PCB contamination from their mothers during suckling, pushing the problem on and into future generations to come.

Researchers found that even though the chemical had been banned within the UK over 30 years ago, PCB concentrations were still relatively high. Study findings revealed an almost 20 percent reproductive failure rate for sexually mature females via evidence of stillbirth, recent abortion or faoetal death. Furthermore, 16.5 percent also had infections or tumors in their reproductive organs.

"Reproductive failure could have occurred in almost 40% of mature females sampled in this study. PCBs may have reduced foetal or newborn survival, something which has also been observed in other mammals," said Dr Sinéad Murphy led the study during her Marie Curie Research Fellowship at ZSL, in a news release. "UK harbour porpoises are part of a larger north-east Atlantic population and our research suggests a population-level risk from PCB exposure."

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