Chemicals found in whale blubber, and initially suspected of being from industrial sources, have turned out to be naturally occurring, raising questions about the accumulation of both natural and industrial compounds in marine life.
A new study in the journal Science by researchers Emma Teuten, Li Xu, and Christopher Reddy at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) is causing researchers to rethink the sources and fates of many chemical compounds in the environment.
It has been known for decades that industrially produced compounds such as polybrominated diphenyl ethers or PBDEs, used as flame retardants in furniture and clothing, accumulate in human and animal tissues. Structurally similar compounds, methoxylated polybrominated diphenyl ethers or MeO-BDEs, have recently been found in fish and marine mammals and are a new class of bioaccumulated compounds. In some samples, the MeO-BDEs are among the most abundant compounds in the environment after DDE, a breakdown product of the pesticide DDT, and several polychlorinated biphenyls or PCBs, but their source has remained unknown.
Teuten, lead author of the study and a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Marine Chemistry and Geochemistry at WHOI, isolated two chemicals from 10 kilograms (about 22 pounds) of whale blubber from a Trues beaked whale found dead at False Cape, Virginia, in November 2003. The blubber was supplied to Teuten and colleagues by the Virginia Marine Science Museum, which removed the whale from the beach to look for clues to its death.
Shelley Dawicki | EurekAlert!
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