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Mar Pollut Bull. 2012 Nov;64(11):2374-9. doi: 10.1016/j.marpolbul.2012.08.013. Epub 2012 Sep 7.

Are baleen whales exposed to the threat of microplastics? A case study of the Mediterranean fin whale (Balaenoptera physalus).

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Department of Environmental Sciences, University of Siena, Via PA Mattioli 4, 53100 Siena, Italy.


Baleen whales are potentially exposed to micro-litter ingestion as a result of their filter-feeding activity. However, the impacts of microplastics on baleen whales are largely unknown. In this case study of the Mediterranean fin whale (Balaenoptera physalus), we explore the toxicological effects of microplastics on mysticetes. The study included the following three steps: (1) the collection/count of microplastics in the Pelagos Sanctuary (Mediterranean Sea), (2) the detection of phthalates in surface neustonic/planktonic samples, and (3) the detection of phthalates in stranded fin whales. A total of 56% of the surface neustonic/planktonic samples contained microplastic particles. The highest abundance of microplastics (9.63 items/m(3)) was found in the Portofino MPA (Ligurian Sea). High concentrations of phthalates (DEHP and MEHP) were detected in the neustonic/planktonic samples. The concentrations of MEHP found in the blubber of stranded fin whales suggested that phthalates could serve as a tracer of the intake of microplastics. The results of this study represent the first warning of this emerging threat to baleen whales.

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