Pollution 'changes sex of whales'
By Graham Tibbetts
28th January 2004
Male whales, dolphins and seals are the latest animals to show signs of developing female sex organs as a result of pollution, scientists said yesterday.
A wide range of marine life has already demonstrated hermaphroditic traits, from molluscs and fish to polar bear cubs.
But it is now thought that more mammals are being similarly affected, placing populations and species in danger. Prof Peter Matthiessen, of the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology at Lancaster Environment Centre, said: "There is now increasingly convincing data about marine mammals - otters, whales, dolphins and seals - that seem to be suffering in some areas the syndrome of feminisation.
"Effects range from minor biochemical and cellular changes to serious impacts on populations and on the biodiversity of whole animal communities." Speaking at a briefing for journalists in London, he cited a population of Beluga whales in the St Lawrence estuary, Canada, which has a "range of significant abnormalities".
The deformities are caused by so-called "gender-bending" substances, principally oestrogen and chemicals that mimic its effect. Oestrogen can occur in sewage, while its chemical mimics are found in paint used on ships' hulls.