This illustration shows the paathways for bioaccumulation of microplastics (MPs) in marine mammalian food webs, indicating the feeding preferences and foraging strategies in marine mammals and potential microplastic exposure via prey. (Artwork supplied by Nastenka Alava Calle)

This illustration shows the paathways for bioaccumulation of microplastics (MPs) in marine mammalian food webs, indicating the feeding preferences and foraging strategies in marine mammals and potential microplastic exposure via prey. (Artwork supplied by Nastenka Alava Calle)

Researcher investigates accumulation of microplastics in B.C. whales

Initial results shows the biomagification is less than feared

As microplastics flood the world’s oceans, some good news out of UBC indicates the pollutants do not appear to magnify as they’re passed through the food web from zooplankton, to fish and, lastly, large marine mammals.

A researcher at the university’s Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries (IOF) sampled water with varying levels of microplastic concentrations, then combined it with data about the food webs, digestive process and dietary habits of humpback whales and killer whales off B.C.’s coast. The results showed biomagification, when substances accumulate in animals in larger concentrations as they’re passed up the food chain, scarcely occurred in the two whale species.

However the study’s author, Juan Jose Alava, principal investigator of the Ocean Pollution Research Unit, and a research associate at the IOF, cautions more data from other food webs is needed to form an accurate picture of microplastic biomagification.

“[Microplastics] are persistent because they take a long time to break down, and the material can cause some damage and health effects in marine organisms,” Alava said.

READ MORE: Barrels of fuel to children’s toys: B.C. shoreline cleanup nets 127 tonnes of marine debris

“The takeaway is that we learned that the water and sediments are polluted with microplastics. The global ocean is basically a dump,” Alava said. “We need to change our behaviours, our preferences and our consumption. The world’s population is depending on plastics. Yet, they’re everywhere. The idea is to change to a more clean, plastic-free and biodegradable source of products.”

The model Alava built for the study will be freely available to other scientists. As more data comes in, his hope is to see a more accurate risk assessment of microplastics on marine mammals that can better inform plastic waste management decisions.

Empirical studies exist on how microplastics transfer through lower-level organisms, but this is among the first studies on complex marine food webs and top predators.

Canadians want solutions

Plastics account for about 73 per cent of marine litter, with more than 1,300 species, including 81 marine mammals, affected through entanglement and ingestion of fishing line, plastic bags and other plastics.

One study estimates that a minimum of 5.25 trillion particles weighing 268,940 tonnes is floating in the world’s oceans, coming in the form of products like microbeads in cosmetics and cleaners, or broken down from larger items like clothing, ropes, bags and bottles.

A new poll from Abacus Data commissioned by Oceana Canada found that 95 per cent of Canadians are concerned about marine plastic pollution, with two thirds supporting the expansion of Canada’s proposed ban on harmful plastics to include items like cold drink cups, cigarette filters and all forms of polystyrene, like styrofoam.

READ MORE: Plastics industry says its products are not ‘toxic’, urges govt to rethink label

Currently, the ban would include only six single-use plastics that Oceana says have already fallen out of favour with consumers — checkout bags, straws, sir sticks, six-pack rings, cutlery and polystyrene takeout containers.

“Canada has an opportunity to lead in the fight to end the global plastic disaster. There is public appetite for stronger federal action. Now is the time to meaningfully reduce plastic production and use, including banning more of the unnecessary and harmful single-use plastics that are choking our life-sustaining oceans,” Oceana Canada plastic campaigner Ashley Wallis said.

Oceana’s poll found 88 per cent of respondents were unaware just than nine per cent of Canada’s plastic waste is recycled.

“Recycling alone will never be the answer,” Wallis said. “Our recycling systems can’t handle the volume or complexity of materials on the market today. Meanwhile, plastic production is expected to double by 2035.”



quinn.bender@blackpress.ca

Killer WhalesPlastic Bag Ban

Just Posted

Emissions from the City of Abbotsford's vehicles make up the largest share of the municipality's emissions.
File photo
Vancouver Island councillor leads campaign to reduce building-sector GHG emissions

Courtenay’s Will Cole-Hamilton pushing for building emission legislation

Pictures and notes in from friends and classmates make up a memorial in support and memory of Aubrey Berry, 4, and her sister Chloe, 6, during a vigil held at Willows Beach in Oak Bay, B.C., on December 30, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Mother of slain daughters supports recent changes to Canada’s Divorce Act

Sarah Cotton-Elliott said she believed her children took a back seat to arranging equal parenting

Thousands protested in Victoria following the death of George Floyd in the U.S. (Black Press Media file photo)
B.C. not exempt: New report documents 150 years of racism and the fight against it

Booklet marks province’s 150th anniversary with call for transparency, change

The Port Alice pulp mill has been dormant since 2015. (North Island Gazette file photo)
Parts recycled, life returning to inlet as as old Port Alice mill decommissioned

Bankruptcy company oversees de-risking the site, water treatment and environmental monitoring

Victoria man Brett Andersen is asking for people’s help to secure him one of eight free tickets to the moon. (Screenshot/@brettandersen Instagram)
Victoria man wants your help securing a free ticket to the moon

Japanese billionaire offering eight people a trip to the moon

The James C Richardson Pipe Band marches in a Remembrance Day parade on Nov. 11, 2019 in Chilliwack. Wednesday, March 10 is International Bagpipe Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of March 7 to 13

International Bagpipe Day, Wash Your Nose Day and Kidney Day are all coming up this week

(The Canadian Press)
‘Worse than Sept. 11, SARS and financial crisis combined’: Tourism industry in crisis

Travel services saw the biggest drop in active businesses with 31 per cent fewer firms operating

A mobile home fire prompted a quick response from firefighters Saturday around 3:30 p.m. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)
Mobile home up in flames at Duncan RV Park

One patient burned, EHS on scene

(Black Press Media files)
Medicine gardens help Victoria’s Indigenous kids in care stay culturally connected

Traditional plants brought to the homes of Indigenous kids amid the COVID-19 pandemic

Works crews have begun to install roads and other infrastructure to service the Nigel Valley redevelopment project that will bring nearly 800 new housing units to Saanich over the next several years. (Devon Bidal/News Staff)
Prep work begins on massive Nigel Valley development in Saanich

Construction of first two developments expected to begin fall 2021, B.C. Housing says

Gregory Ould, co-founder and executive director of Blanket BC, drops off warming blankets to Our Home on Eighth shelter in Port Alberni during a tour of Vancouver Island on Feb. 19, 2021. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)
Blanket BC delivers warmth, hope to Vancouver Island’s homeless

Gregory Ould donated blankets, toques in five communities

Duncan Christian’s Grace George lines up a shot during the three-point portion of the BC School Sports Pandemic Basketball Challenge after taking a pass from Cam Stevens. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)
Duncan Christian leads the way in pandemic basketball challenge

School tops participation numbers for second time this year

The shadow cast of the Satyr Players production of ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show’: Linda Dohmeier as Dr. Scott, Olivia Erickson as Columbia, Brandon Caul as Rocky, Christopher Carter as Brad, Charlie Prince as Eddie, Branden Martell as Riff Raff, Jenna Morgan as Magenta, Megan Rhode as Janet and Adrien Kennedy as Dr. Frank-N-Furter (clockwise from left). (Josef Jacobson/The News Bulletin)
VIU student actors go online for 25th-annual ‘Rocky Horror Picture Show’

Satyr Players theatre company to broadcast pre-recorded shadow production

Most Read