Pollutants

All of the waters of the world are interconnected.  This means that no matter where you live, the streams and rivers near your home eventually flow into the ocean.  It is also true that most things that we humans put down our drains eventually flow into such waterways and are carried downstream.  What this means is that much of our oils, bleach, lawn chemicals, etc. eventually end up in places where marine mammals live.  And these pollutants are already taking severe tolls on some marine mammal populations.

The animals most effected by industrial, agricultural, and urban pollutants are coastal creatures such as seals, harbor porpoises, and belugas.  Because these animals are at the tops of their food chains, chemicals (such as DDT, PCBs, and heavy metals) tend to accumulate in their bodies.   Evidence of the deleterious effects of pollution on marine mammals is seen in the ringed seal, whose populations north of the Baltic sea are declining and reproduction is impaired due to high PCBs in tissues.  It is also seen in the Beluga whales of the Saint Lawrence Seaway, who are washing up on shore dead with bodies full of chemicals from manufacturing plants upstream and common pollutants from cities nearby.  Evidence is now accumulating that indicates that California Sea Otters are being negatively affected by tributylin, an extremely toxic ingredient in boat paint that is leeching into the water.   

 

Warning:  
These waters are contaminated and are not suitable for swimming or other water contact activities.  
San Mateo County.

This sign is, of course, very intimidating to a potential human swimmer.  

But humans can elect to avoid a day at the beach.  Just think about the lives of seals that make these areas their homes.

 

Human sewage also introduces another problem that marine mammals are faced with.  A type of algae known as Lingulodinium polyedrum (which is responsible for red tide poisoning) has a tendency to thrive on the high urea levels characteristic of sewage.  Red tide poisoning is a serious concern for pinnipeds as well as other marine mammals.

The serious problem of water pollutants is one that all creatures on earth share with marine mammals.  And humans are no exception.  Don't forget that long before polluted water reaches an ocean, it potentially impacts our human drinking water and the other water we use in our homes.  As responsible citizens of the earth, we should be careful to use biodegradable lawn treatments and to decrease our amount of pesticide use.  We should be much more careful about what we pour down our drains at work and home.  Examples of harmful fluids include bleach, cleaning supplies, hair dye and oil.  Did you know that more oil ran off our land into the seas during the past year than was spilled in the biggest oil spill ever, the Exxon Valdez spill of 1989.  We should, and can, all take steps to reduce this harmful influence in the future.  In the US, auto repair shops are required by law to accept waste oil without charge and they will turn it over for recycling and proper disposal.  The next time you change the oil in your car, please do not look at the storm drains along your street as a quick means to rid yourself of the waste.  Take the extra few minutes to keep your oil out of our waterways!

The issue of clean water is one about which there is almost universal consensus.  This is easily understood since the cleanliness of our water impacts all people, members of all political parties, and residents of all nations.  As conservationalists, our point here is that it is also an issue that impacts virtually all of the other species on earth.  

It is important for we humans to undertake responsible stewardship of the earth.  It is our present actions that cause water pollution.  It therefore falls to each of us individually to contribute to a collective shift in our impact on our shared water.  

Please discuss this issue in your home and in your business.  Then take active steps to reduce your own waste flow so that the water running downstream from your home and from your community is cleaner tomorrow than it is today.

 

Content provided by Canisius College students under the direction of Michael Noonan, PhD.