Category Archives: Ocean Health

Dr. Peter Ross has published world-renowned scinece on pollution and marine mammal health during his 13 years at DFO

Silent Summer: Leading Fisheries Researcher on Harper Govt. Killing Ocean Pollution Monitoring


by Dr. Peter Ross

Since being hired 13 years ago as a Research Scientist at Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), I have been fortunate to conduct research on such magnificent creatures as killer whales, beluga whales, harbour seals and sea otters. I have visited some of the wildest parts of coastal British Columbia, Arctic Canada and further afield. I have been humbled by the power of Mother Nature as we deployed teams to explore and better understand the lives of creatures beneath the surface of the ocean. I have marveled at the evolutionary adaptations of marine mammals to an existence at the interface of land, sea and atmosphere. And as a scientist, I have come to learn that I possess but rudimentary powers of observation when it comes to the mystery and beauty of a vast ocean. For all of this, I remain eternally grateful.

A blend of challenging field work and cutting-edge laboratories has helped me to look into the lives of fish and marine mammals, and the ways in which some of the 25,000 contaminants on the domestic market affect their health. Our research has drawn on the combined expertise of dedicated technicians, biologists, vessel operators and aboriginal colleagues, ultimately leading to scientific publications now available around the world. This is knowledge that informs policies, regulations, and practices that enable us to protect the ocean and its resources, both for today’s users, and for future generations.

I am thankful for the rich array of opportunities aboard Canadian Coast Guard ships and small craft, alongside Fisheries Officers, chemists, habitat biologists and managers, together with colleagues, technicians, students and members of aboriginal communities. I have enjoyed weaving stories of wonder on such issues as the health of killer whales, effects of flame retardants on beluga whales, hydrocarbons in sea otter habitat, trends in priority pollutants in harbour seals, impacts of current use of pesticides on the health of salmon, the identification of emerging contaminants in endangered species and risk-benefit evaluation of traditional sea foods of First Nations and Inuit peoples.

Past scientific discoveries such as high levels of PCBs in Inuit foods, dioxins in pulp and paper mill effluent, and DDT-associated eggshell thinning in seabirds formed the basis for national regulations and an international treaty (the Stockholm Convention) that have led to cleaner oceans and safer aquatic foods for fish, wildlife and humans. Canada was a world leader in spearheading this profoundly important treaty, drawing on ground-breaking scientific research in tandem with the knowledge of aboriginal communities.

I am thankful to my friends, family, supporters and colleagues, who have always been there to converse, share, learn and teach – in the laboratory, in the field, in the cafeteria, in the hallway. These people have made it all worthwhile.

It is with deep regret that I relay news of my termination of employment at Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the loss of my dream job. It is with even greater sadness that I learn of the demise of DFO’s entire contaminants research program – regionally and nationally. It is with apprehension that I ponder a Canada without any research or monitoring capacity for pollution in our three oceans, or any ability to manage its impacts on commercial fish stocks, traditional foods for over 300,000 aboriginal people and marine wildlife.

Canada’s silence on these issues will be deafening this summer and beyond.

For more information about Ross’ work:

Silent Snow: The Slow Poisoning of the Arctic, by Marla Cone, published by Grove/Atlantic


Oceans in Peril: Radical Action Needed to Avert 90% Species Extinction


The oceans of Planet Earth currently contain about a quarter million species of marine organisms, which together constitute the Marine Food Pyramid and the Marine Food Web.  If we do not change our ways, radically and fundamentally, immediately or sooner, we stand to drive over 90% of them, or more than 225,000 species, to extinction, and that is from the oceans alone.

Of this 250,000-species global treasure the Marine Food Pyramid/Web, all the fishes on all levels and pathways combined number only 15,000 species, and all the marine mammals (whales, dolphins, seals) total only about 120 species.  And all of these advanced species will likely be among those that would go extinct, as will likely be most corals and arthropods (krill, crabs, lobsters).

This is not all speculation and computer modeling.  It has happened before, and can happen again.  We are talking about Earth’s Mass Extinction bouts,  the sixth  of which we are as we speak deeply entrenched.  50 years ago, the planet was losing about 20 known species a day; today, we are losing over 100 known species a day, meaning possibly ten times that many unknown species.  And when it is all said and done, we will have lost over 1.5 million known species, and many times that many unknown species – land, air and sea.

When we talk about mass extinctions, the End-Cretaceous Extinction 64 million years ago, the one that wiped out all the dinosaurs – Mass Extinction #5 – comes to mind.  But first, at about a 50% extinction rate, it was not the most severe among the Big 5, eliminating “only” about 50% of Earth’s species including all the dinosaurs; and second, it was not caused by global warming, but by an asteroid.

The worst of them all was #3, the End-Permian Mass Extinction 251 million years ago, which drove some 75% of all land species and 95% of all marine species – including all the corals – to extinction.  And it was caused by global warming resulting from geological activities associated with the break-up of the super-continent Pangaea.

The conditions are right for Mass Extinction #6 being a repeat of Mass Extinction #3, or even to out-do it.

This won’t be immediate, at least not in the human time frame – perhaps a century or two, or three – but it will happen if we follow our current trajectory.  The only difference is: Which of our future generations shall we devastate the most?

Meanwhile, as we do the Amazon rainforest on land, so we rape the oceans and the seas, directly, with highly effective machinery from chain saws to trawlers, to drain pipes of pulp mills, to floating islands of plastic, as if there is no tomorrow.  Many previously major species have been fished out of commercial existence, and poaching, such as shark-finning, kills off up to 90 million sharks a year, of which over 200 species are endangered.  At the rate we’re going, perhaps there will be no tomorrow after all.

Imagine an ocean without whales, dolphins, seals, sharks, cod, octopus, lobsters, crabs, nor a single coral reef.  It will still look breath-taking from a beach at sunset, but our soul will be filled with that ocean’s desolate emptiness.