A new study has found that fish living deep in the ocean have liver pathologies, tumors and other health problems, which are possibly being caused by human pollution.
Most interestingly, the study also found the first known case of a deep-water species with an “intersex” condition — a species of fish with both male and female sex organs. Specifically, the male fish had been “feminized,” and developed eggs.
Researchers from Oregon State University (OSU); the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science in the United Kingdom; and other agencies trawled the Bay of Biscay west of France at depths between 700 meters and 1,400 meters, which is approximately 2,300 feet to 0.9 miles deep, in an area with no apparent point-source pollution that also appeared to reflect general ocean conditions. The study, which was published in the journal Marine Environmental Research, is one of the first of its type.
“In areas ranging from pristine, high mountain lakes of the United States to ocean waters off the coasts of France and Spain, we’ve now found evidence of possible human-caused pollution that’s bad enough to have pathological impacts on fish,” said Michael Kent, a microbiology professor at OSU’s College of Science, who worked on similar studies, and this latest research.
Although one might assume that the levels of pollution and the biological impact they’d have wouldn’t reach the farthest depths of the ocean, Kent said, “The pathological changes we’re seeing are clearly the type associated with exposure to toxins and carcinogens.”
The links between pollution and changing fish populations, though, are preliminary, as the researchers have said that they could be caused by naturally-occurring problems.
However, chemical pollution is a serious problem. About 70% of industrial waste is dumped into Earth’s water bodies, polluting the usable water supply. In the U.S. specifically, about 40% of the rivers and 46% of the lakes are so polluted that they’re considered unhealthy for swimming, fishing, or aquatic life.
In order to draw more conclusive links, researchers said they’ll have have to do chemical analyses.