Polar bears are already facing major problems as a result human activity, like in the rapid loss of sea ice due to climate change. But the species' arctic habitat isn't the only thing being diminished by people. The lingering presence of a now-banned chemical may still be wreaking havoc on polar bears - specifically their penises, according to a new study. As with many mammals, male polar bears have a bone in their genitalia, called a baculum or penile bone, thought to aid in reproduction by keeping their sex organs rigid while they mate. Researchers tell New Scientist that this part of the species' anatomy could be at risk of breaking because of pollution.
Persistent pollutants push polar bear penises to breaking point | Research | Chemistry World
Exposure to high levels of environmental pollutants called organohalogen compounds OHCs seems to reduce the size of sexual organs in male and female polar bears, researchers report in an article scheduled for the Sept. Christian Sonne and colleagues checked 55 male and 44 female East Greenland polar bears for a correlation between OHC levels in body tissue and size of sexual organs. Sonne's group did the study to close gaps in knowledge about the OHC's possible effects on reproduction in polar bears, a vulnerable population because of their low reproductive rates. The bears have elevated OHC levels, due to a diet that includes seals, which accumulate large amounts of OHCs in their blubber. Past studies have linked OHCs to various health effects in the bears.
The Polar Bear-Sammy See. But long hairs cover polar bears' reproductive organs, making it hard to determine gender by sight alone. Even scientists who observe polar bears having sex may find that fur obscures the penis. Males do have slightly longer hair than females at the tip of their penile "sheaths" skin that surrounds the penis.