Can we protect Polar Bears from pollution?

It feels strange to rejoice the listing of polar bears to the Endangered Species Act, because its nothing to be happy about, really. They are now officially in danger of extinction. I would be more ecstatic if they were being removed from the list, actually. But ESA is a powerful legislative weapon to address the root causes of extinction.

No, I’m not talking about ice retreat due to climate change, I’m talking about exogenous chemical pollution accumulating in the Arctic that causes female polar bears to grow a penis. The condition is known as imposex.

Imposex also occurs in mud snails and dog whelks exposed to tributyl tin (TBT), a chemical antifoulant used to prevent invertebrate build-up on boat hulls. TBT is regulated in most countries, but the rules generally apply to large vessels, not small ones. I tracked it down in North Carolina estuaries and marinas one summer, cracking dozens of Ilyanassa obsoleta shells from sites near Duke Marine Lab to find the tell-tale sign.

Another pollutant, polybrominated diphenyls, or PBDEs, have recently been found in the fatty tissues of polar bears, especially in eastern Greenland and Norway’s Svalbard islands. Thus far, Alaskan-American polar bears exhibit relatively low levels of PBDE.

…compounds similar to the PBDEs have contributed to a surprisingly high rate of hermaphroditism in polar bears. About one in 50 female bears on Svalbard has both male and female sex organs, a phenomenon scientists link directly to the effects of pollution.

From the story Toxic Waste creates hermaphrodite Arctic Polar Bears

Peter Etnoyer (397 Posts)

PhD candidate at Texas A&M University- Corpus Christi and doctoral fellow Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies.


6 Replies to “Can we protect Polar Bears from pollution?”

  1. Hmmm….I could swear this post had a different title yesterday. What’s up with that? Are you being censored by Science Blogs?

  2. I thought that ship had sailed, what with Kevin dropping the f-bomb in posts and describing bone-devouring worms in wildly entertaining pornographic terms.

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