Featured Image Credit: Florida International University
By Kira Krall
Researchers at the Florida International University have discovered that dolphins living in the coastal Everglades system have the largest mercury content ever recorded. This study compared males from the Everglades to males found in the Lower Florida Keys, near Key West.
High quantities of the substance are found in areas with dense mangrove forests. Some species of bacteria thrive in the nutrient-rich, oxygen-poor sediment in the mangrove forests. As anaerobic bacteria digest the organic content, they convert inorganic mercury into organic methylmercury, the compound responsible for causing mercury poisoning. This process is magnified by the amount of pollution in our waters.
Mercury poisoning can cause reproduction issues, neurological malfunction such as loss of the five senses, and can inhibit growth. Mercury builds up in the body as animals consume more and more seafood. The compound attaches itself to fatty organ tissues, which means no detox in the world can flush it out.
The results of this dolphin study have higher implications than health effects on dolphins. It means that the fish found in this area also have high mercurial content, which can be dangerous to human health if they’re consumed in high quantities. This study also has implications for cultures around the world that consume dolphins and whales directly.
The research team at FIU is expanding their research to include other species like alligators and sharks in order to get a better image of how prevalent mercury is in the Coastal Everglades ecosystem.