Shrinkage in the Arctic


As if polar bears didn't have enough problems with the melting Arctic ice shelf forcing them into cannibalism and suicidal swims, now researchers say the animals' genitals appear to be shrinking. The shrinkage isn't due to the frigid Arctic waters, but exposure to industrial pollutants.

Smaller genitals will likely hamper their sex lives and ultimately cause their already low reproductive rates to dwindle, Canadian and Danish researchers report in Environmental Science & Technology. They examined the genitals of 55 male east Greenland polar bears and 44 females killed by subsistence hunters between 1999 and 2002. The more organohalogen contaminants, such as PCBs, the animals had in their systems, the smaller their reproductive organs were.

 

Smaller penis size might be the most obvious change, but it isn't the researchers' only concern:

 

"The reduction in testis and ovary volume is an additional negative factor. Future global warming, with depleted food resources from thinning sea ice , and subsistence hunting add other negative impacts on the East Greenland and other polar bear subpopulations."

 

More than just animal populations are at risk. Humans who share the polar bears' yen for ringed seals or bearded seals—which are laden with the chemicals—may also experience some, er, reproductive challenges.    

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