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Whales heavy with metal
June 24, 2010 2:57 PM   Subscribe

"I don't see any future for whale species except extinction." A report (pdf) released Thursday by Ocean Alliance noted high levels of cadmium, aluminum, chromium, lead, silver, mercury and titanium in tissue samples taken by dart gun from nearly 1,000 whales over five years. Concentrations of chromium found in some whales was several times higher than the level required to kill healthy cells in a Petri dish. Mercury in some whales was 16 times higher than a typical shark or swordfish, both known for their high mercury levels. Beyond whales, "You could make a fairly tight argument to say that it is the single greatest health threat that has ever faced the human species."
posted by stbalbach (68 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
Poor fucking whales, if they're not being hunted and brutally slaughtered they're being badgered to death.
posted by turgid dahlia at 3:02 PM on June 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


I thought that water mercury levels have been stable for a long time & that sea animals higher up on the food chain have been dealing with heavy metal contamination since before man. Am I completely wrong on this?
posted by Dmenet at 3:05 PM on June 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


This is the post I knew was coming. Literally no news story is worse than this. This is exactly why I've been trying to avoid all news about the gulf.

Frankly I don't want to live on a planet without whales.
posted by clarknova at 3:06 PM on June 24, 2010 [3 favorites]




"ah, Mercury, sweetest of the transition metals..."
posted by fuq at 3:09 PM on June 24, 2010 [8 favorites]


Whale Cancer! EFF YEAH!!!!
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 3:09 PM on June 24, 2010


If whales become extinct, what takes their place in the food chain?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:09 PM on June 24, 2010


goddamit fuq
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 3:10 PM on June 24, 2010


The ocean is also much smaller than we imagined. According to the good people at Fox News, new research has found that it has a mean depth of just 2.29 miles. Ah well. Good game, humans.
posted by atypicalguy at 3:10 PM on June 24, 2010


Giant bacterial colonies that hate mankind.
posted by Artw at 3:11 PM on June 24, 2010


This is exactly why I've been trying to avoid all news about the gulf.

I can't imagine the BP spill helped, obviously, but this is a five-year report about whales worldwide. The damage being done to them isn't recent, sadly.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 3:12 PM on June 24, 2010


And the worst part is: without the magic guard-songs of the Blue Whales, there will be no force strong enough to prevent the Oil Demon from escaping the Earth's core and destroying all life on Earth.
posted by stammer at 3:13 PM on June 24, 2010 [6 favorites]


Ahab's revenge.
posted by wcfields at 3:16 PM on June 24, 2010


Profound sadness. This is grotesquely wrong.
posted by bearwife at 3:17 PM on June 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


Poor fucking whales, if they're not being hunted and brutally slaughtered they're being badgered to death.

I'm pretty sure badgers aren't among the toxic materials in the ocean. I'm no marine biologist, so I could be wrong.

If whales become extinct, what takes their place in the food chain?

Godzilla. Or mecha-whales.
posted by filthy light thief at 3:18 PM on June 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


If whales become extinct, what takes their place in the food chain?

Squid. Giant squid.
posted by New England Cultist at 3:18 PM on June 24, 2010


I thought I heard that the sound of shipping activity and the various long-range sonar devices(if not wholly fictional) constantly plowing through a medium that conducts sound way better than air had driven all of the whales batshit insane already anyway. Maybe it will be kinder to them.

Otherwise being a whale must be like being in prison: endless high-volume tinnitus of buzzing and clanging and metal. It's probably a good thing whales can't hang themselves.
posted by umberto at 3:25 PM on June 24, 2010 [4 favorites]


I recently went on a very touristy orca watching cruise in Washington state, and the guide lamented that the females who gave birth were able to offload a fair amount of the fat soluble toxins like heavy metals to their firstborn via their milk. So, the subsequent calves have longer life expectancies since the firstborns bore the brunt of the toxic transfer. Males don't have this "luxury" and are now living about 30 years less than females who birthed. Hearing about that kind of puts a damper on an otherwise lovely afternoon outing, to say the least. There's nothing that will fix this other than immediate and sweeping changes that sadly aren't even close to being on the table since all politicians know how to do is cut and compromise rather than actually pass real environmental legislation.
posted by Burhanistan at 3:27 PM on June 24, 2010 [10 favorites]


> I thought I heard that the sound of shipping activity and the various long-range sonar devices(if not wholly fictional) constantly plowing through a medium that conducts sound way better than air had driven all of the whales batshit insane already anyway. Maybe it will be kinder to them.

There's not much evidence that engine noise gives them much problems. Most sonar is passive, but the active sonars that navies use does indeed screw them up. That's a more direct and noticeable effect, however.
posted by Burhanistan at 3:28 PM on June 24, 2010


females who gave birth were able to offload a fair amount of the fat soluble toxins like heavy metals to their firstborn via their milk.

The obvious answer would be to start milking whales.
posted by GuyZero at 3:29 PM on June 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


I recently heard about an omega-3 supplement derived from krill oil. So maybe humans will start harvesting the krill and take over that spot in the food chain.

No word on whether we'll start dumping our bloated human corpses into the sea trenches so the slow decomposition at high pressure, low temperature will be able to feed the strange and monstrous creatures that inhabit the darkened deeps and currently feed on whale cadavers.
posted by darkstar at 3:32 PM on June 24, 2010


I don't know what's more depressing, the substance Yahoo article or the incredible stupidity manifested in the comments.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 3:34 PM on June 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


Well, at least we already know what to do when the probe comes calling.
posted by adamdschneider at 3:38 PM on June 24, 2010


"I don't see any future for whale species except extinction."

In Christopher Moore's book Fluke: Or, I Know Why the Winged Whale Sings, he has a quote that I feel is appropriate here:

"Oh, that's heinous fuckery most foul."

It sort of sums up my feelings on this.
posted by quin at 3:40 PM on June 24, 2010 [6 favorites]


Damn, this is terrible.
posted by brundlefly at 3:40 PM on June 24, 2010


I don't know what's more depressing, the substance Yahoo article or the incredible stupidity manifested in the comments.

How about that the stupidity in the comments is not much different than the decisions over generations that got us here, and the fact that the same kind of thinking will probably continue and then after the whales are dead, they'll shake their heads, "No one could have KNOWN!"
posted by yeloson at 3:42 PM on June 24, 2010 [5 favorites]


Yeah, I find it hard to laugh at this.
posted by Ron Thanagar at 3:42 PM on June 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


I vote for stupidity manifested in the comments.

The equation is typically: Tragedy + Time = Comedy. It's not: Protracted Destruction of the Earth + My Brief Time Here = Comedy.

But everyone from Colbert to mefites seems to think there's something fucking funny about an oil spill that is still happening and the the mass extension of animals. Stay classy, folks.*

*disclaimer: I watched "The Road" last night and it put me in a foul mood.
posted by quadog at 3:45 PM on June 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


I suspect there would be plenty of geological evidence of this, but it's interesting to think that perhaps the various great extinction events of the past weren't volcano or asteroid caused, but just the inevitable outcome of industrial civilization.
posted by maxwelton at 3:47 PM on June 24, 2010


There's nothing that will fix this other than immediate and sweeping changes that sadly aren't even close to being on the table since all politicians know how to do is cut and compromise rather than actually pass real environmental legislation.

I wonder if, when push comes to shove, the 'immediate and sweeping changes' that could actually save the whales/the environment as a whole would so cripple society and the economy that they really just aren't feasible, and it's not just that corrupt politicians and evil corporations are conspiring to prevent them from happening. If the only way to save the whales is to basically go back to a pre-industrial economy, I think most people would agree that it's not actually worth it. If the choice, for example, is between ceasing use of certain fertilizers and making famine a real threat for, say, billions of people who don't currently face that threat, and having whales go extinct, there's no question in my mind that I'd choose to let the whales go extinct.

What I honestly don't know, however, is whether their are austerity measures that would preserve our basic, industrial post-industrial way of life (though with decreased short-run living standards), or not. I worry, though, that all the piecemeal regulation and legislation in the world will amount to naught if so much of our life is based on plastic (and the manufacture thereof), conventional means of electricity production, and oil-consuming automobiles. We might just not be able to save the whales, or the environment as a whole, without giving up these three things, just to think of probably the three most important off the top of my head. And I look around me and I don't see a society--in the developed world, at least--that is ready to live without these three things. I mean, just look around you right now--I bet you can see at least 30-40 consumer products made out of plastic, or that have plastic components, in your field of vision.

So anyways, these issues are much deeper than just a few evil yet powerful people ruining the planet. Over a billion people live in first-world countries, and basically all of them live in a way that combines to create conditions that are unsustainable, and are killing the whales (and a whole lot of other things). Pointing the fingers at America for being the worst of the bunch is a convenient deflection for a lot of non-Americans who don't want to admit that their lifestyle, too, is causing these problems. There's plenty of plastic in France, too.

We're still at the stage where it is easier to try to score cheap political points in discussions of the environment than actually realize just how tough this issue is, and to try to do things clear-headedly with the knowledge that all our options are painful, but we as a species need to choose the least painful one for our species. If we continue the way we are going, aesthetically/morally we will suffer from the loss of gorgeous species and scenery, socially and economically from upheavals due to resource scarcity and rising sea levels. But to prevent these things may mean we give up just as much.
posted by notswedish at 3:49 PM on June 24, 2010 [10 favorites]


..animals [and humans] higher up on the food chain have been dealing with heavy metal contamination [a long time]

This is a common counter-intuitive position on heavy metals. It's psychologically reassuring, many people snuggle up to it. Of course, it's completely wrong, but that doesn't matter, it's a warm blanket, a comfortable solution to an existential crisis you can't do anything about.
posted by stbalbach at 3:54 PM on June 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


If whales become extinct, what takes their place in the food chain?

Sarah Palin's appallingly overinflated sense of self-worth and relevance?
posted by elizardbits at 3:56 PM on June 24, 2010


In Puget Sound, at least, PCB's are another burning train coming into the tunnel.
posted by Danf at 3:56 PM on June 24, 2010


I saw some dirty hippies today. If fact I've been seeing them around downtown. Once I saw them digging through a garbage can for redeemable bottles or cans. Today I saw three of them: They had some big dogs, one had a washboard, another had an professional guitar slung over his shoulder. Maybe they were going to busk a bit. I love the dirty hippies. I wonder if they have a position available?
posted by JohnR at 3:57 PM on June 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


to prevent these things may mean we give up just as much.

This is an argument for status quo, a conservative position. It's like someone in 19th century London saying the only solution to "London fog" (coal smoke) is for everyone to freeze to death, so it's better that 5% of the population die of lung disease every year. Obviously that problem was solved. To "prevent these things" we need tougher laws, more R&D, better awareness, people who care, etc.. we made the problem and we can fix it. There will be winners and losers along the way, the losers will fight back and say the problem is too big and can't be done. The winners will do it.
posted by stbalbach at 3:58 PM on June 24, 2010 [15 favorites]


If whales become extinct, what takes their place in the food chain?

Sarah Palin's appallingly overinflated sense of self-worth and relevance?



Krill, baby, krill!!!


Also!
posted by darkstar at 3:59 PM on June 24, 2010


> In Puget Sound, at least, PCB's are another burning train coming into the tunnel.

Ah, that's what the guide on my whale watching cruise said. PCBs, not heavy metals. Equally bad, though.
posted by Burhanistan at 4:01 PM on June 24, 2010


Honestly, toxicity is the main reason I don't eat seafood now. Originally, it was a moral/ethical decision, but I've become less idealistic in my age. Now it's a health-based choice. Yes, fish is delicious and "good for you," but lord, don't you know what we put in the water?

You could make a fairly tight argument to say that it is the single greatest health threat that has ever faced the human species.

Damn, I'm writing a sci-fi novel about the future effects of heavy-metal toxic load on human civilization. I'd better get going or it'll write itself!

I had to choose between massive injury from toxic exposure or electromagnetic radiation.

A tough choice, but I went with toxic injury. I think I made the right call...

notswedish, it's a simple choice. Change our living "standards" or destroy all human life. I think you misuse the word "feasible."

I too like the dirty hippies. It's been a tough 40 years or so, but maybe they can make a comeback.
posted by mrgrimm at 4:14 PM on June 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Maybe hope is facing extinction too.
posted by belvidere at 4:39 PM on June 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


sound of weeping
posted by chance at 4:40 PM on June 24, 2010


Whale extinction, in case you haven't picked up on that, is a symptom of bigger issues, and not a discrete problem on its own. You don't get to choose between living a first-world lifestyle (especially with the stupidity of a booming human population) forever or letting the whales go extinct; you get to choose to try and do something about it now so some vestige of a first-world lifestyle can remain or have that decision made for you in the not-so-distant future.
posted by maxwelton at 5:03 PM on June 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


Is there a link to the real report? The pdf linked in the FPP only addresses lead and mercury and really doesn't support the level of handwaving freakoutry in the Yahoo article.

Here's the part of the pdf that got my attention (and not in a good way):

When consider by gender, detectable male lead levels ranged from 0.1 - 9.5 ug/g with a global mean of 1.01 ug/g and female levels ranged from 0.1 - 129.6 ug/g with a global mean of 1.9 ug/g.

OK, Seem to be ignoring the 7% of the tested individuals that are below their quantitation limit or their detection limit (the pdf seems to use them interchangeably) when they describe the range of results. Are they excluding them from the average as well?

Also, lets assume that of the whales tested, roughly half were male and half were female. If you throw out that single 129.6 µg/g result, the average female result falls to 1.13 µg/g. which is probably not statistically different from 1.01. Unless there is some interesting footnote that goes along with the 129.6 result or a second sample or some way to resample that individual, that value should have been thrown out of the study.

I mean come on guys, I'm on your side in the whole "Stop fucking the environment" thing. If I'm seeing this, surely some Rush Limbaugh acolyte will work it out and they'll use it to swiftboat the hell out of all this work you did. OK, really they'll just make shit up to swiftboat the hell out of all this work you did, but it's a matter of principle!

Also, if anyone finds the whole thing somewhere, let us know, because this sounds like the kind of data set I could have fun with for months.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 5:06 PM on June 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


Mad Hatter unavailable for comment. No seriously, have you ever tried talking to someone with mercury poisoning?

Honestly, toxicity is the main reason I don't eat seafood now. Originally, it was a moral/ethical decision, but…
Yeah, I’m pretty picky about it myself. Lots of seafood I don’t eat that I used to. I used to love octopus. It’s really delicious. Then I saw a program about how intelligent they were, how they were playful and could distinguish between their handlers, how they could open jars. I don’t eat them anymore either.
plus the whole Cthulu thing. what. couldn’t hurt

there's no question in my mind that I'd choose to let the whales go extinct.

Yeah but it seems to be more of a ‘canary in the mineshaft’ sort of thing than a famine or let whales die type deal.

There's a lot of people that have a real disconnect between their environment and nature. I'm not a hippie (a lot of those people get on me for hunting.) But if you to track an animal where it lives, you see what it eats and what it excretes, you kill it, gut it, and dress out the meat yourself, you're going to have a pretty good idea of what it is you're ingesting. And you're going to have an idea that herbivore meat is made of the plants surrounding it and you.

So you're going to get put out of kilter when someone dumps toxic chemicals all over the ground those plants grow out of but claims that it won't affect the hunting, as though animals just exist in open spaces and spontaneously reproduce into neat packages in a supermarket.

I can only imagine how the farmers and fishermen feel.

But that's always been the bottom line. It's not just some touchy feely 'save the whales' thing. On a very real and practical level, we - and we are meat too - are made from the environment around us, we're an intrinsic, systemic part of it, just like any other animal.
Any animal that remains insensitive to changes in its environment and can't or won't adapt is an animal that is going to die.
posted by Smedleyman at 5:06 PM on June 24, 2010 [17 favorites]


This is the biggest problem of the human species: our position as the dominant species has imbued us with a lack of respect for the Earth and its other life forms. We exploit everything in the mistaken belief that we will be around forever, not realising that on a cosmic scale humans have been here for a mere blip.

Whales deserve far better treatment than they've ever received from us; we can start by stopping all hunting permanently, and then by cleaning up our mess.
posted by bwg at 5:12 PM on June 24, 2010 [1 favorite]




we all die. everything, everywhere.

funny we can keep cadmium out of our paints, but not our ecosystem as a whole.

Who are WE to deny an honest businessman his profit?

When did democracy become rapacious "free market" capitalism? Since forever.

I am old, your children will sleep in this world, not me, what will you do, say "I'm not sure ... the evidence isn't all in ... some people disagree?"

Don't worry you won't notice anything except the usual unequal distribution of wealth upwards.

We have to make sure SOME people survive, why not the rich ones?
posted by Max Power at 6:05 PM on June 24, 2010


.
posted by Joe Beese at 6:22 PM on June 24, 2010


Umberto: It's probably a good thing whales can't hang themselves.

They do have this trick of swimming up onto a beach at high tide, rather to the chagrin of the humans who don't want a rotting whale carcass cluttering up "their" beach.
posted by localroger at 6:29 PM on June 24, 2010


But everyone from Colbert to mefites seems to think there's something fucking funny about an oil spill that is still happening and the the mass extension of animals. Stay classy, folks.

It's just a coping mechanism. Better than having a nervous breakdown.
posted by krinklyfig at 6:37 PM on June 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


Maybe we could all help by eating the world's Norwegians, Japanese and Icelanders.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 7:13 PM on June 24, 2010


but lord, don't you know what we put in the water?

OK guys, nobody tell him what we put in the air and in the earth or he's never gonna eat again
posted by Kirk Grim at 7:21 PM on June 24, 2010


Blah Blah Blah Star Trek IV Blah Blah Blah
posted by blue_beetle at 7:36 PM on June 24, 2010


Blah Blah Blah Star Trek IV Blah Blah Blah

Really? It took 52 comments to get to this? I'm disappointed.

A Greenpeace volunteer came up to a friend of mine in LA and she asked him if he knew how important whales were. He said, "Yes, I've seen Star Trek IV." She was not amused.
posted by eviltwin at 7:55 PM on June 24, 2010


An amusing aside, the Star Trek IV writers originally considered a story that had the crew going back in time to secure an oil well. (Seriously, it's on Wikipedia, must be veritas)
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 8:14 PM on June 24, 2010


Better than having a nervous breakdown.

Really, how can you not laugh?

"What will lead to the horrible collapse of human civilisation on this planet?"

A) Capitalist crisis
B) War and terrorism
C) Global warming
D) Toxic pollution
E) Destruction and waste of vital resources

F) All of the above at the same exact time

At this point I'm just waiting for the venomous Nazi asteroid to hit.
posted by stammer at 8:41 PM on June 24, 2010


Really? It took 52 comments to get to this? I'm disappointed.

Humph.
posted by adamdschneider at 8:45 PM on June 24, 2010


As has been mentioned above, apparently whales DO commit suicide, and apparently, it's sonar that drives them to it. Here's the article I read on it last year:
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/12/magazine/12whales-t.html
I just, you know, figured I'd add another dimension to the tragedy of this thread.
posted by sunnichka at 9:31 PM on June 24, 2010


We have to make sure SOME people survive, why not the rich ones?

How about this: Since the rich have primarily been the ones in the driver seat all along, staging elaborate, contrived media spectacles to keep us all distracted while they robbed each other and everyone else blind to feather their nests, pissing on our kid's futures so their kids could get the leg up they'd need to be in a position to piss on our kid's kids, and just generally making the kinds of bad, myopic decisions that got us to this point in the first place, there's no good reason to think they wouldn't just keep making bad decisions if they were the only ones left until the last of humanity died off.

And I'm not suggesting the poor or middle class would do a much better job, mind you.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:50 PM on June 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


First of all it's not the worst threat the planet has ever faced. It's not even the worst threat the oceans face. Acidification and the loss of nutrients are far greater threats and that, I think, where the snark comes from. If half, or even a tenth of the doomsday scenarios we learn about every year come to fruition then we are doomed.

I know that if we all sacrifice and elect brave politicians and get working on it most of our problems can be either solved or mitigated enough that we can survive and clean it up but the sad fact is it's not going to happen.

People are sad selfish louts and they don't want to make sacrifices. They won't do it. We've known about our problems for generations and all we manage to do is talk about them. Oh hell, we're fucking experts at identifying the problems and we're god-damn masters at making grand plans to fix them, but we have time after time failed completely to do anything about them.

A small minority make little gestures like ride bikes and growing their own food and putting up solar panels but China and India are churning out new automobiles and building coal burning power plants and most Americans don't give a shit.

The whales are going extinct? Fuck them, who's going to replace Simon on American Idol?

60,000 barrels of oil are pouring into the gulf of Mexico every day? Great! Now we can finally get that nigger out of the white house.

Global warming? It's too cold anyway.

The oceans are dying? It doesn't matter, Jesus is coming any day now and he'll fix it. Besides, they're trying to give condoms to kids and you gotta have priorities.

So snark? God damn right I snark. Right now my only hope is that the REAL shit, the peak-oil or global pandemic or complete economic collapse doesn't happen until after I'm dead.

But I'm not optimistic.
posted by Bonzai at 10:50 PM on June 24, 2010 [5 favorites]


They are just another Canary in the coal mine my friends. I fear it is already too late.
posted by Mr_Zero at 11:26 PM on June 24, 2010


Soon enough the earth's ecosystems will collapse, breathable air will be available by the hour, bees and plant pollination will be exclusively a hired service, fish a decadent luxury, animals merely a curiosity, and the Dream will finally come true. The whole world commodified and available to man for a low low price.
posted by TwelveTwo at 1:05 AM on June 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


(adds Whales to the all-singing, all-dancing kickline of the apocalypse.)
posted by The Whelk at 2:11 AM on June 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


I just want to say thanks to everyone in this thread, particularly stbalbach, maxwelton, & Smedleyman, for their responses to my comment above, in which I sort of poked around and questioned the assumptions behind environmentalism in general. I appreciate that people could see that I was genuinely curious. I have always kind of supported environmentalism because people smarter than me and who I generally agree with supported it, but it's a big tent, and so though a lot of things like sustainability make sense to me, things like 'save the whales' often didn't.

I guess I just want to say thanks to everyone for seeing a comment that could be construed as a hostile challenge to a question that in most liberal circles (such as Metafilter) is considered settled, and instead seeing my genuine curiosity, and answering it lucidly and objectively. I've posted things like that before on this site, and have been met with hostility. Thanks to your reasoned answers, I've learned some new things, and am a more committed and informed environmentalist.
posted by notswedish at 10:11 AM on June 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Blah Blah Blah Star Trek IV Blah Blah Blah

Really? It took 52 comments to get to this? I'm disappointed.


Yeah, I looked over the thread a few times trying to find any kind of vague reference. When I couldn't find one, I realized I wouldn't sleep tonight without adding a throw-away comment. My work here is done.
posted by blue_beetle at 10:25 AM on June 25, 2010


.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 12:56 PM on June 25, 2010


At this point I'm just waiting for the venomous Nazi asteroid to hit.

I don't think I understand what that is, but it sounds more exciting than the slow, seeping death in the Gulf.
posted by krinklyfig at 3:54 PM on June 25, 2010


Yeah, I looked over the thread a few times trying to find any kind of vague reference. When I couldn't find one, I realized I wouldn't sleep tonight without adding a throw-away comment.

Argh!
posted by adamdschneider at 3:59 PM on June 25, 2010


Oh, sorry I didn't link properly. Late at night! Was sleepy! Sonar-induced whale suicide.
posted by sunnichka at 1:31 PM on June 30, 2010


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