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Loro Parque in study on toxic substances in whales stranded in Canaries 

PAGE 6 LORO PARQUE IN STUDY

The Loro Parque Foundation has been collaborating in a study about the impact of toxic substances on the immune system in orcas.

The study concludes that contaminants accumulated in the seas generate a ‘toxic cocktail’ that has a greater effect on the animals than if they were exposed to the same amount of each of the substances separately

The components were selected due to the frequency of their detection in the corpses of the stranded animals in Antarctica. The scientists from the University of Aarhus, Denmark, then implemented the analysis.

The study was conducted in a laboratory with the blood extractions, about half a litre each, that were taken from the orcas in the installations of OrcaOcean in Loro Parque. The blood samples were processed to separate the blood cells responsible for the immune system, which were subjected to an in vitro test and then exposed to the toxic cocktail.

Dr. Almunia said the scientific community has knowledge about how each of these components, for example DDT, affects the immune system of orcas but there is not a lot of research done to analyse the effect produced by a combination of different toxic components.

It is also possible that these pollutants influence the reproductive system of the animals, as some of them are similar to hormones in structure. In fact, there is a group of resident orcas in Scotland that has not bred for years, and it is suspected that this has to do with pollution. A toxicology analysis on a female orca stranded recently showed a very high concentration of persistent organic pollutants.

As its greatest impact, this toxic cocktail can shorten the life of the animals as their immune systems are forced to fight constantly against the pathogens, which is something that has already been seen previously in dolphins.

The question that the expert of Loro Parque Foundation raises is how much easier it is for a pathogen to affect the health of an animal whose immune system is depressed. Further extensive studies are needed to answer that, and that is why Loro Parque Foundation is working together with the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Spain, to identify and analyse the concentration of toxic substances in animals stranded in the Canary Islands.