Study finds record PFAS levels in dolphins

November 22, 2023 6:34 am in by
The Burrunan are critically endangered and only found in Victoria (Marine Mammal Foundation).

A critically endangered species of Corio Bay dolphins has been found with the highest concentration of toxic PFAS chemicals in the world.

Liver samples were taken from 38 various species along Victoria’s coast, but it’s the Burrunan that returned record levels of the chemical.

Colonies of the rare species are also found in the Gippsland Lakes, however it was a one juvenile from Port Phillip Bay that researchers found with shocking levels of PFAS in its system.

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“Not only did we find the highest levels of these man-made toxicants in a species that’s already critically endangered – including in newborn and juveniles – we also found one dolphin from Port Phillip Bay with PFAS concentrations almost 30 per cent higher than any other individual dolphin reported globally,” study lead author Chantel Foord said.

Dolphins ingest fish whole including the liver where pollutants accumulate, unlike humans who typically eat the fleshy muscle tissue, so researchers caution that the study findings does not necessarily mean we’re similarly at risk from Victoria waters.

However, study co-author and Mammal Foundation colleague and director Dr Kate Robb says there’s much still to be learnt after the studies initial findings.

“Where is the PFAS coming from and then why is it bio-accumulating in our critically endangered Burrunan to this level,” she said.

PFAS is known as a forever chemical as it does not break down in the environment. It’s varying uses include being an additive to firefighting foam and recently caused alarm when it was detected in drinking water at Avalon airport.

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“They persist in the environment for hundreds of years, Australia doesn’t actually manufacture PFAS,” Dr Robb noted.

“So the next step is to really try and isolate where these levels are coming from and the potential sources so we can hope to manage and mitigate this threat.”

The study team are seeking funding for the next phase of research on the project.