Part of the show Space Science & Extraterrestrial Life
A toxic chemical used to prevent barnacles from clinging to the bottoms of boats may be causing whales to go deaf and to beach themselves, according to a study by scientists at Yale University. TBT, or tributyl tin, is banned in many countries because it was found to cause genetic mutations in some acquatic animals including sea snails, but it is still widely used elsewhere. Now there is growing evidence that TBT could be causing even greater problems in the oceans by damaging animals' ears. Working on guinea pigs, researchers ahve found that TBT stops the outer hair cells in the ear from working properly, leading to hearing loss, suggesting that the same could happen to marine mammals including dolphins and whales. This would have disastrous consequences for these animals because they rely so heavily on their sonar or echolocation for navigation and hunting.