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Bioaccumulation of persistent organic pollutants in small cetaceans in european waters : transport pathways and impact on reproduction (BIOCET)

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Protecting European marine life

Ensuring that the delicate balance of marine ecosystems is protected is an important piece of the environmental protection plans of the EU.


The effects of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) on dolphins and porpoises in European Atlantic waters were the topic of EU-funded project BIOCET. The aim was to define these effects at the reproductive level and pinpoint ways through which POPs bioaccumulate in these mammals. A key contribution of the project was to provide vital, new information on the reproductive system of cetaceans and subsequently make the links with POP toxicity and its effects. Scientists used the occurrence of ovarian scars as an insight into cetacean reproductive history. Specifically the aim was to determine the number of past pregnancies as a key parameter required in modelling pollutant transfer to calves from mothers. Contrary to the common-held belief that ovarian scars are related with age after maturity, new data imply no connection between the two. Researchers showed that ovarian scars post-puberty range widely irrespective of age. In fact, there appear to be strong links between ovarian scars and instantaneous reproductive status. In other words, scars represent past ovulations and scar counts correspond to past ovulations and healing rate. These data are likely to have important implications in the way POPs are passed on to calves and at what frequencies. Furthermore, ovarian scars per se can be used as an important tool to gain insight into cetacean biology. This line of research is therefore deemed important for environmentalists and biologists alike.

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