Radiation And Wildlife: The Impact On AnimalsMarch 23, 2011 • By Samantha Ellis
While many animals have been affected by the disaster in Japan, the impact of the radiation appears to be less harmful than we might have expected. Read on to discover how the marine and wildlife have been and may continue to be affected by the radiation leaks. — Global Animal
Samantha Ellis, Global Animal
With contaminated water flowing from the nuclear reactor plants in Japan back into the ocean, many people are wondering what effect the radiation will have on marine life. Fortunately the impact should be minimal. The Pacific ocean is so large that the radioactivity leaking into the water will be diluted to levels far too low for it to be toxic to aquatic animals.
Also, according to Sciencemag.org “Radioactive isotopes are most dangerous when animals’ bodies absorb them, thinking they’re something else. For instance, cesium-137 mimics potassium and is absorbed by muscles, while strontium-90 mimics calcium and is taken up by bones. Since ocean water is full of potassium and calcium in the form of salts, this lowers the chance of an animal’s body taking up radioactive particles by mistake.” essentially, even if the radiation levels do rise in the ocean, the marine life will be unharmed.
While the full effects of the radiation pollution on wildlife are difficult to predict, looking back at similar events in Chernobyl and Bikini Atoll we find that the outlook for wildlife is not as grim as we might expect, according to information gathered by Sciencemag.org. Examining the effects on animals near Chernobyl and Bikini Atoll animals can suffer short term harm from the radiation, but will, in the long term, recover.
The greatest harm to the wildlife appears to be from the tsunami itself, rather than the radiation resulting from that event. It is estimated that tens of thousands of coastal birds were killed when the wave hit. The endangered Midway Atoll albatross population was severely affected by the tsunami, but will survive as a species. The impact on other endangered species, such as the monk seal, is unknown at this time; however scientist M. Sanjayan of the Nature Conservancy in Arlington, Virginia believes that most of the large mammals were able to ride the waves with few injuries.