Researchers from Ocean Wise found microplastics in the innards whales in a Nov. 22, 2019 story. (Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Researchers from Ocean Wise found microplastics in the innards whales in a Nov. 22, 2019 story. (Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Study finds microplastics in all remote Arctic beluga whales tested

VANCOUVER — 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.”

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.”

Just Posted

Red Deer musician Curtis Phagoo is glad the Alberta government is investing $2 million to help the province’s live music industry, but he would have liked the criteria to be expanded, so the money could be used as relief to cover revenue shortfalls. (Contributed photo by Cory Michaud.)
Red Deer musicians welcome $2-M in grants to help live music, but would have preferred a relief program

The money is for future projects and can’t be used for retroactive expenses

There were six additional deaths across Alberta reported over the past 24 hours, bringing the death toll to 1,926 since the beginning of the pandemic. (File photo)
Alberta’s health care system under ‘significant stress,’ says AHS president

The province’s health care system is currently under more stress than at… Continue reading

The Red Deer Rebels have acquired goaltender Connor Ungar from the Brandon Wheat Kings, the team announced Monday. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Red Deer Rebels acquire goaltender Connor Ungar, forward Liam Keeler in separate trades

The Red Deer Rebels have acquired goaltender Connor Ungar from the Brandon… Continue reading

(Advocate file photo)
Man charged following police chases last summer is sentenced

Alexander Michael Talbot sentenced to 22 months in prison

COVID-19 test kit. (Black Press Media file photo)
Red Deer businesses can order COVID testing kits from the Chamber

Kits are being provided through a partnership with the Alberta government

Mayor Rick Bonnett. (Screenshot)
WATCH: Ponoka council calls on gov’t to support rural small businesses

Ponoka council is calling on the provincial government to increase funding to… Continue reading

Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole holds a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday, May 13, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Liberals silent on nature of Fortin probe or who will replace him on vaccine campaign

OTTAWA — The Liberal government is scrambling to reassure Canadians that the… Continue reading

A woman attends a vigil in front of the hospital where Joyce Echaquan died in Joliette, Que., on Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Hospital staff testify today at Quebec coroner’s inquiry into death of Joyce Echaquan

TROIS-RIVIÈRES, Que. — Medical staff from a Quebec hospital where Joyce Echaquan… Continue reading

Natural Resources Minister Seamus O’Regan responds to a question during Question Period in the House of Commons in Ottawa on February 17, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Ottawa looking for 2,000 new energy auditors to get home retrofit program going

OTTAWA — The federal government is looking to train 2,000 more people… Continue reading

A person waits outside a COVID-19 testing clinic in Montreal, Sunday, May 9, 2021, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
Ontario opens shots to 18+, Quebec opens drive-thru, as COVID vaccine efforts expand

Quebec is opening a drive-thru vaccine clinic at its busiest airport and… Continue reading

Calgary Flames players celebrate the team's overtime win against the Vancouver Canucks during an NHL hockey game in Vancouver, B.C., Sunday, May 16, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Lindholm OT winner gives Flames 6-5 win over Canucks despite blowing four-goal lead

VANCOUVER — In a game with little to play for besides pride,… Continue reading

In this photo taken on May 13, 2021, Russia's performer, Manizha, smiles during an interview after rehearsing at the Eurovision Song Contest at Ahoy arena in Rotterdam, Netherlands. For many, the stage and global television audience of millions is a chance to express messages of inclusion, strength and positivity. Manizha has a message of strength for women in her song whose lyrics include the lines: "Every Russian Woman. Needs to know. You're strong enough to bounce against the wall." (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)
Eurovision Song Contest returns despite coronavirus pandemic

ROTTERDAM, Netherlands (AP) — Pounding beats? Check. Uplifting lyrics? Check. Huge, backlit… Continue reading

Serena Williams of the United States returns the ball to Italy's Lisa Pigato during their match at the Emilia Romagna Open tennis tournament, in Parma, Monday, May 17, 2021. Serena Williams earned her first victory in more than three months by beating 17-year-old qualifier Lisa Pigato 6-3, 6-2 in the first round of the Emilia-Romagna Open. Williams accepted a wild-card invitation for the Parma tournament after losing her opening match at the Italian Open last week. (AP Photo/Marco Vasini)
Serena Williams posts 1st victory in more than 3 months

PARMA, Italy (AP) — Serena Williams earned her first victory in more… Continue reading

In this Oct. 21, 2014 file photo, people pass an AT&T store in New York's Times Square. AT&T will combine its media operations that include CNN HBO, TNT and TBS in a $43 billion deal with Discovery, the owner of lifestyle networks including the Food Network and HGTV. The deal announced Monday, May 17, 2021, would create a separate media company as households increasingly abandon cable and satellite TV, looking instead at Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Facebook, TikTok and YouTube. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)
AT&T, Discovery join media brands as cord-cutting encroaches

NEW YORK (AP) — AT&T will combine its massive media operations that… Continue reading

Most Read