April 8, 2005
Noxious chemicals in whale blubber have long been attributed to environmental pollutants, however, new evidence indicates they may be naturally produced, according to the journal Nature.
Scientists have known for years that chemicals called halogenated organic compounds (the pesticide DDT is an example) accumulate in certain animals, but they assumed they were from manmade substances.
- Chris Reddy of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute found that sea sponges in the Indian Ocean naturally produce methoxylated polybrominated diphenyl ethers (MeO-PBDEs), which are also found in flame retardants.
- Reddy's colleague, Emma Teuten, discovered MeO-PBDEs in whale blubber, which contained greater amounts of Carbon-14 than artificially produced MeO-PBDEs would normally have.
While the blubber in Teuten's sample was from only one whale which was probably ill, Reddy notes that the implications of these discoveries might explain why some enzymes in the natural world can break down these molecules.
Source: Emma Marris, ""Pollutants" in Whale Blubber are Naturally Produced," Nature, February 10, 2005.
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