Adorable seals and sea lions could be the reason why large amounts of toxic mercury are brought onto the coastlines, say researchers.
A new study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, reports that the toxic mercury is brought ashore from the ocean in the fur of sea lions and seals. For some, this may not come as a surprise as in 1970 scientist have predicted this would happen in the future, when they detected high levels of mercury at the Año Nuevo State Reserve, a place where sea lions and seals go to during the mating season.
„At the time, [they] speculated that all the biological material coming from those animals was basically pulsing mercury into the system,” declared Jennifer Cossaboon, lead author of the study and a master’s student in environmental science at San Diego State University.
Unfortunately people are at fault for this dangerous phenomena. The seawater absorbs mercury from polluted air as well as from chemical discharges that are dumped into the ocean by industrial factories. Many such chemical components contain different amounts of Mercury, most of witch are harmful to humans.
Tiny organisms living in the sea water can turn mercury into a neurotoxin called Methylmercury, which is extremely harmful and can even cause brain damage. If animals consume mercury infested plankton, the Methylmercury will than spread among these predators from smaller fish, to bigger fish, and so on, until it eventually reaches to humans. Pregnant women and young children are exposed to a lot of danger if poisoned with Methylmercury.
Researchers analysed elephant seal fur at Año Nuevo, and discovered that mercury was present in the fur. Elephant seals are a species of seals that spend 50% of their time on the coast and the other 50% of the time by feeing in the ocean, explains Cossaboon. A plausible theory is that the seals are consuming mercury contaminated fish and then they are bringing the mercury ashore, according to scientists.
Cossaboon says that at Año Nuevo, marine organisms have not presented any visible signs of turmoil so far. Usually Marin mammals such as seals and sea lions are able to signal problems of greater magnitude when they occur within their ecosystems. Cossaboon is of opinion that before reaching to a conclusion this issue requires further examination.
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