A pioneering study of seven beluga whales in Canada’s remote Arctic waters has found microplastics in the innards of every single one. Ocean Wise researcher and Simon Fraser University masters student Rhiannon Moore extracts a sample from beluga whale intestines at the Ocean Wise Plastics Lab in Vancouver in a November 2019 handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Ocean Wise, Valeria Vergara, *MANDATORY CREDIT*

Study finds microplastics in all remote Arctic beluga whales tested

Lead author Rhiannon Moore says she wasn’t expecting to see so many microplastics so far north

A pioneering study of seven belugas in Canada’s remote Arctic waters has found microplastics in the innards of every single whale.

Researchers from Ocean Wise worked with hunters from the Inuvialuit community of Tuktoyaktuk, N.W.T., to collect samples from whales they harvested between 2017 and 2018.

They found an average of nearly 10 microplastics, or particles less than five millimetres in size, in the gastrointestinal tracts of each beluga.

The study was published last week in the Marine Pollution Bulletin and conducted in partnership with Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Simon Fraser University.

Ocean Wise says it is the first study of microplastics in a marine mammal in Canada.

Lead author Rhiannon Moore says she wasn’t expecting to see so many microplastics so far north.

“It actually surprised me at first. I thought, this is a far-north top predator in the Arctic in a fairly remote place,” Moore says in an interview.

It demonstrated just how far microplastics can travel and how they’ve penetrated even the most remote environments, she says.

“It definitely tells us they’re ubiquitous, they’re ending up everywhere,” she says. “It’s a global problem, it’s not a contained local problem, so it’s going to take a lot of different actors — government, industries and consumers — to try to limit the flow.”

READ MORE: BC Liquor Stores to move fully to paper bags by March

Nine different types of plastic polymers were identified in the animals, with polyester being the most common.

While Moore says she believes they would have passed through the whales’ digestive tracts without any immediate consequences, there’s still very little known about the potential long-term health effects of prolonged exposure.

It’s also unknown how the microplastics entered the whales, but Moore says she thinks they most likely ate fish that had already ingested the plastic.

Her next study will focus on microplastics in beluga prey.

Moore says the community of about 900 people, who live on the shores of the Eastern Beaufort Sea north of the Arctic Circle, was a key partner in the project. The whales are an important source of nutrition and are closely monitored for contaminants.

It gave the researchers the advantage of studying healthy specimens, compared with studies in other parts of the world that have looked at microplastics in whales found dead.

“There have been some European studies on whales that have essentially washed up and that’s another reason why this study is unique — these whales, they didn’t wash up on a beach so there’s not really that bias where they’re already sick or injured. They are a healthy population,” Moore says.

Moore says she suspects marine mammals closer to populated areas are likely to ingest even more microplastics than the Arctic belugas.

“It does raise questions about what other whales might be exposed to,” she says. “I definitely think about that, that’s a question that keeps me up at night a little bit.”

Amy Smart, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Eckville community programs receive funding from Lacombe County

Three community programs in Eckville made the list alongside eight other programs in the county

Lakewood Golf Resort near Sylvan Lake expanding to 18-hole course

Lakewood Golf Resort was approved for the expansion by Red Deer County at a recent meeting

Two dead in three-car collision on Hwy 11 near Alberta Springs Golf Course

Two women were pronounced dead on the scene of an accident Wednesday afternoon

The best caesar in Canada can be found in Sylvan Lake

Kjeryn Dakin’s Tragically Hips caesar won the national Best Caesar in Town competition

Sylvan Lake Wranglers add a win after back-to-back home games

Wranglers fell 6-2 to the Medicine Hat Cubs Nov. 30, but won 3-0 over the Cochrane Generals Dec. 1

Fashion Fridays: Ethical and sustainable gifts for the season

Kim XO, helps to keep you looking good on Fashion Fridays on the Black Press Media Network

Man accused in toddler son’s death inept parent, not murderer: defence

Toddler’s body was found outside Good Shepherd Anglican Church in April 2017

Job numbers disappointing, but oil and gas growth expected in 2020: Kenney

Unemployment rate in Alberta rose to 7.2 per cent from 6.7 per cent last month

‘Things haven’t changed enough:’ Ecole Polytechnique anniversary prompts reflection

Fourteen women were fatally shot by a gunman at the Montreal school on Dec. 6, 1989

Feds approve Alberta’s carbon tax on big industrial emitters

Tax will be applied on 10 per cent of emissions produced by the province’s biggest polluters

Appeal denied: Alberta’s top court upholds conviction of triple-murderer

Douglas Garland was convicted of first-degree murder in the deaths of a couple and their grandson

Second warning on romaine lettuce from California region as another E. coli case reported

Two cases of E. coli have been reported in relation to the illness in the U.S.

Many of Canada’s working poor can’t afford lawyers, don’t qualify for legal aid

One lawyer says many people earn too much to qualify for legal aid, but not enough to really live on

Economy lost 71,200 jobs in November, unemployment rate climbs to 5.9%

Jobless rate is at its highest since August 2018, when it hit 6%

Most Read