Salmon, whales ingest microplastics: study

Plastic particles eaten by plankton, then other species, researchers say

Microplastics

Microplastics

Zooplankton in the ocean are eating microscopic plastic particles and passing those contaminants up the food chain to salmon, whales and other species at an “alarming” rate.

That’s the conclusion of a new study co-authored by Dr. Peter Ross, the top ocean pollution researcher at the Vancouver Aquarium’s Marine Science Centre.

Zooplankton are tiny creatures that make up a major food source for juvenile salmon, as well as baleen whales.

Microplastic particles are barely visible small fragments, fibres and granules that are widespread in the ocean due to the breakdown of plastics – from both litter, ropes and other sources such as sewage effluent in major populated areas. They’re different from plastic microbeads that are deliberately used in toothpastes and exfoliants.

Ross and his colleagues estimated a juvenile salmon in the Strait of Georgia may be ingesting two to seven microplastic particles per day, and returning adult salmon are ingesting up to 91 particles per day.

A humpback whale could be ingesting more than 300,000 microplastic particles a day.

“These particles could pose a serious risk of physical harm to the marine animals that consume them, potentially blocking their gut or leaching chemicals into their bodies,” Ross said.

He said the research is the first clear evidence that species at the bottom of the food web are mistaking plastics for food and potentially posing a risk to other animals.

The findings were published in June by the journal Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology.

It’s unclear yet whether microplastics in the marine food web pose a human health risk to people who consume seafood.

Exposure is thought to be lower with fish that people don’t eat whole – such as salmon – compared to shellfish such as mussels, which an earlier European study also found to contain microplastics. That study suggested the plastic fragments may also absorb and pass along persistent organic pollutants.

Georgia Strait Alliance executive director Christianne Wilhelmson said the findings shed new light on the threat of virtually invisible ocean contamination, as opposed to more obvious marine garbage.

“We’re now really starting to understand that plastic does break down into small pieces and just because we can’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not having a potentially incredible and negative impact on the marine environment,” she said. “It demonstrates how badly we’ve been treating the oceans as a garbage dump and it’s really coming back to haunt us.”

Wilhelmson said the growing prevalence of plastic microfibres offshore is reversing the thinking on some practices once thought to be green.

“We recycle plastics to make fleece jackets but now we’re realizing those fleece jackets are breaking down in our laundry and those fibres are not being trapped by sewage treatment and that ends up in the ocean being part of the pollution.”

Ross joined the Vancouver Aquarium last year after the federal government in 2012 shut down his marine toxicology program within the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. He was one of dozens of scientists terminated with the elimination of the national contaminants research program.

Ross had testified in 2011 at the Cohen Inquiry into declining sockeye numbers that toxins flushed down Metro Vancouver sewers were likely a contributing factor.

Diagram of two zooplankton species and ingested particles.

 

 

 

 

 

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Bill Almond’s observatory in its new home on a Saanich lakeside. (Submitted/Cameron Burton)
Colwood stargazing dome makes a move to Saanich

The backyard structure finds a new home after 30 years

Chris Grzywacz, development agent for cannabis supplier Seed and Stone’s, holds products from the new Songhees Cannabis S + S store on April 20. (Jake Romphf/ News Staff)
First cannabis store opens on Songhees Nation, creates economic opportunity says chief

The Songhees Cannabis S + S had a soft launch at its 1502 Admirals Road location on April 20

A convicted sex offender, whose crimes included offences against children, was arrested at Gonzales Beach after the man was spotted by an off-duty officer. (Black Press Media file photo)
Convicted sex offender arrested at Gonzales Beach

After committing crimes involving children, offender barred from public beaches, being in proximity to kids

VicPD asks anyone who sees Daniel Shumka, or with information on his whereabouts to call 250-995-7654 or report anonymously through Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477. (Courtesy VicPD)
Victoria police seek man wanted on drug trafficking charges

Daniel Shumka, 50, is 6’1” and about 195 pounds with short brown hair and brown eyes

Victoria police arrested three men following a double stabbing April 19. The two victims suffered non-life-threatening injuries. (Black Press Media file photo)
Three arrested after double stabbing in Victoria

Two people sent to hospital after being stabbed, hit with bear spray

FILE – NDP Leader John Horgan, right, and local candidate Mike Farnworth greet one another with an elbow bump during a campaign stop in Coquitlam, B.C., on Friday, September 25, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. won’t be using random individual road stops to enforce travel rules: Safety Minister

Minister Mike Farnworth says travel checks only being considered at major highway junctions, ferry ports

A man pauses at a coffin after carrying it during a memorial march to remember victims of overdose deaths in Vancouver. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. announces historic half-billion-dollar funding for overdose crisis, mental health

Of it, $152 million will be used to address the opioid crisis and see the creation of 195 new substance use treatment beds

Children’s backpacks and shoes are seen at a CEFA (Core Education and Fine Arts) Early Learning daycare franchise, in Langley, B.C., on Tuesday May 29, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. budget to expand $10-a-day child care, but misses the mark on ‘truly universal’ system

$111 million will be used to fund 3,750 new $10-a-day spaces though 75 additional ChildCareBC universal prototype sites over the next three years.

Mak Parhar speaks at an anti-mask rally outside the Vancouver Art Gallery on Sunday, Nov. 1, 2020. Parhar was arrested on Nov. 2 and charged with allegedly violating the Quarantine Act after returning from a Flat Earth conference held in Geenville, South Carolina on Oct. 24. (Flat Earth Focker/YouTube.com screenshot)
Judge tosses lawsuit of B.C. COVID-denier who broke quarantine after Flat Earth conference

Mak Parhar accused gov, police of trespass, malfeasance, extortion, terrorism, kidnapping and fraud

Ambulance paramedic in full protective gear works outside Lion’s Gate Hospital, March 23, 2020. Hospitals are seeing record numbers of COVID-19 patients more than a year into the pandemic. (The Canadian Press)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection rate declines, 849 cases Tuesday

Up to 456 people now in hospital, 148 in intensive care

Christy Clark, who was premier from 2011 to 2017, is the first of several present and past politicians to appear this month before the Cullen Commission, which is investigating the causes and impact of B.C.’s money-laundering problem over the past decade. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)
Christy Clark says she first learned of money-laundering spike in 2015

The former B.C. premier testified Tuesday she was concerned the problem was ‘apparently at an all-time high’

The city asking the public if they want to pursue legal action against the province and their decision to override the city on the Victory Church issue. (Jesse Day Western News)
Penticton ready to sue province over homeless shelter

City council voted unanimously to authorize legal action

Most Read