Debunked: No Evidence That Chemicals Are Causing Polar Bear Penises To Break

Michael Bastasch | Energy Editor

A recent study claims that chemicals congregating in the lower atmosphere are causing the bones inside polar bear penises to become weaker and break. It’s a frightening claim, but one that has no hard evidence backing it, according to a seasoned zoologist and polar bear expert.

“The paper offers no evidence that penis bones of polar bears have been breaking – only that the bone structure was somewhat less dense when examined with a specialized bone density measuring x-ray,” Dr. Susan Crockford, a zoologist with more than 35 years experience, told The Daily Caller News Foundation.

The polar bear penis study, published in the journal Environmental Research, looked at polar bear baculums — a bone that allows mammals to have longer, more successful mating seasons — to see if airborne chemicals called polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are making them weaker. The study found a correlation between PCB levels in polar bear fat and weaker bacula.

The study was hyped by media outlets running with headlines like “We are literally breaking polar bear penises now” and “Polar Bear Dicks are BREAKING!” But Crockford argues that headlines like this mislead because the study did not establish any causation between high PCB levels and weak bacula.

“They found a correlation between reduced bone density and increased environmental chemicals they measured in the bear’s fat,” Crockford said. “They assumed a causation between the two but they don’t know the mechanism and they certainly do not offer any evidence that penis bones had been breaking due to this lessened bone density – only that perhaps they could.”

“They do not even cite any previous papers or studies in which broken penis bones have ever been found,” said Crockford, who runs the site PolarBearScience.com. “There is nothing definitive in this study that demonstrates an immediate cause for concern.”

Indeed, the last sentence in the polar bear penis study said that “PCB may be in a range that may lead to disruption of normal reproduction and development that could lead to lower BMD and increased risk of fractures.” As Crockford notes, “may” and “could” are possibilities, not certainties.

“Based on this we suggest that EDC exposure may negatively affect reproductive health of especially East Greenland polar bears,” the study found.

PCBs are an industrial chemical used in products like paints, adhesives, hydraulic fluids and even railroad ties. PCB production was banned in the U.S. in 1979 and later banned by the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants in 2001. The Environmental Protection Agency says PCBs can cause cancer in animals and are a potential carcinogen for humans.

“These chemicals enter the atmosphere at lower latitudes where they were used, and are then deposited down from the cold polar air, so Arctic animals are more highly exposed than animals in more temperate or equatorial regions,” said University of Florida scientist Margaret James.

But even with PCB worries, polar bear populations have thrived in recent decades because of restrictions on hunting and trading. There are more polar bears today than there were 40 years ago. Scientists, however, worry that global warming will do more harm to polar bears than PCBs.

Polar bears were the first species to be listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act due to global warming. But polar bear populations have been quite resilient even as Arctic sea ice coverage has shrank somewhat in the last few decades.

In 2013, it was reported that polar bears in the Davis Strait reached their carrying capacity — the maximum environmentally sustainable population size.

The official polar bear population estimate is between 20,000 and 25,000, but even this was later shown to be a “qualified guess” by scientists under professional and political pressure. The actual number of polar bears is likely higher since official estimates did not count certain subpopulations because of uncertainty over their numbers.

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