- Scientists analyzed penis bones of otters near and outside oil sites in Canada
- The team found those living near the site had less denser and more brittle bones
- Experts warn that this could disrupt the otter population and impact human men
Penis bones (pictured) of otters in Canada are weakening due to the oil industry’s toxic chemicals tricking into nearby rivers. A team from McMaster University found that hydrocarbon contaminates from such operations are decreasing density and making the bones more breakable
Researchers recruited commercial trappers to collect otters throughout the Athabasca Oil Sands Region (AOSR) – a total of 34 were trapped for the study
Frail penis bones could disrupt the marine animal’s population as well has have the same impact on humans, experts warn. The study also revealed that other contaminants, such as strontium, iron and the hydrocarbon retene, are associated with stronger penis bones among some otters
Penis bones of otters in Canada are weakening due to the oil industry’s toxic chemicals tricking into nearby rivers.
A team from McMaster University found that hydrocarbon contaminates from such operations are decreasing density and making the bones more breakable.
Researchers analyzed otters near and outside crude oil hubs in Alberta, finding that those living near the sites had brittle phallus bones.
Frail penis bones could disrupt the marine animal’s population as well has have the same impact on humans, experts warn.
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Such compounds found in crude oil are known to decrease reproductive success, which led the team from McMaster University to investigate the impact.
And because otters are sensitive to pollutants, the team figured these animals would be prime candidates for the study.
Researchers recruited commercial trappers to collect otters throughout the Athabasca Oil Sands Region (AOSR) – a total of 34 were trapped for the study.
These marine animals have a penis bone that is typically long, curvy and slender, which were measured using a CT scan to determine bone density in both groups – those living near hubs and those outside of sites.
The reproductive bones were also put through destructive and non-destructive mechanical tests, which looked at stiffness, peak load and work-to-failure.
‘The stiffness was determined by the linear relationship between the force and the displacement of the sample during the last three cycles, peak load was determined at the point of failure,’ reads the study published in the scientific journal Chemosphere.
‘Work-to-failure was calculated by integrating the area beneath the force-deflection curve.’
Philippe Thomas, a wildlife toxicologist with Environment and Climate Change Canada, told CBC: ‘We’ve demonstrated how the bone health measure, the penis bone, is tied to exposure to certain trace elements and to hydrocarbons.’
‘We do find, for the most part, that [the] river otter baculum is stronger, stiffer and denser at the low impact of those control sites — so in areas with usually lower levels of some of these hydrocarbons.’
The study also revealed that other contaminants, such as strontium, iron and the hydrocarbon retene, are associated with stronger penis bones among some otters.
Thomas told CBC he knows this studies and others similar to it can ‘become highly politicized and weaponized on news and social media feeds by people for and against the oilsands. He added that the industry listens to reputable science and has responded in proactive ways in the past when their practices have been shown to be harmful.’
The study from McMaster University is not the only one to reveal the effects of harmful toxins among river otters.
In 2013, the Cardiff University Otter Project found such chemicals are ‘shrinking’ male sec organs – and could also affect human men as well.
The analysis found a decrease in the size of penis bones in male otters along with other changes that gave ’cause for concern’ about the size of sex organs.
It questions if endocrine disrupting chemicals – also known as hormone disrupters – could be to blame.
Experts warned the study could be behind similar problems in humans with increasing number of boys born with undescended testicles, sex organ malformation and reduced sperm counts.
High levels of pollutants were probably to blame for a crash in otter populations in Britain in 1970s.
The Environment Agency funded post-mortem examination of otters since the 1990s revealing a gradual decline in pollutants over time – and otter populations have increased.
But the new study co-authored by the Chemicals, Health and Environment Monitoring (CHEM) Trust suggests there are links between hormone disrupting chemicals and problems with male reproductive health.
Experts studying the reproductive health of the mammals in England and Wales were concerned to find a decrease in the weight of otters’ penis bones.
Other health problems in males included an increase in undescended testicles and cysts on sperm-carrying tubes.