Whales Infected With Prion Disease
Are people transmitting prion disease to sea mammals or are sea mammals spreading prion disease to humans? Sick animals and sick people can tell us a lot about the health of our environment. A study in Denmark is raising red flags about the connection between sick people and sick animals. There could be a common thread between sick whales and sick humans. Keep reading to find out:
- Why people with neurodegenerative disease are contagious;
- How sea mammals are contracting brain disease from humans;
- Why consuming whales and other contaminated foods recycles brain disease back to humans. Other pathways also put humans at risk.
Whales have too much intellectual, social and navigational capacity to run aground en masse unless extremely sick and disoriented. There have been several high-profile stranding events around the world in the past few decade alone. An alarming number of whales are washing up on Alaska’s shores now. As mammals high on the food chain, their health is a good indicator of environmental health. We should be testing those that die much more rigorously for toxic buildup and disease. Whales are downstream from billions of people, so they are in a position to serve as unique bio-indicators regarding public health.
These beached whales and dolphins are the oceans’ version of canaries in coal mines. Their bodies are like giant sponges that can offer insight into the health of the ocean and the planet.
For example, sick and dead whales might be able to shed light on the Alzheimer’s disease epidemic that is exploding exponentially around the globe. Thanks to reckless sewage disposal practices around the world, unstoppable prions are being dumped in our watersheds and waterways on an industrial scale. If the prion pathogen associated with Alzheimer’s and many related neurodegenerative diseases is present in whales and dolphins, it’s further confirmation of the scope and spread of these killer proteins. Unfortunately, that critical test is not taking place on the whales and dolphins now. Therefore, people continue to serve as the canary in the coal mine.
As with humans and other mammals, whales and dolphins are vulnerable to prion disease. Prion disease has many names, including Alzheimer’s disease, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) and Parkinson’s disease. In livestock, it’s known as mad cow disease. In deer, it’s being called chronic wasting disease. They all are forms of what is called transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE). TSEs are deadly and unstoppable. The prion pathogen behind them and the diseases themselves are being mismanaged globally. Our oceans are the holding pond for those that runoff the land with water.
At least one dolphin has been found with prion disease, but testing is severely lacking. Since dietary factors are clearly linked to neurological disease, we can learn more about the health of whales by studying the people who eat them. In turn, the health of the whales can shed light on the health of our food and water supplies upstream. A pioneering researcher is conducting such research now to better understand human health, the health of our oceans and the connections between those factors.
Whale meat appears to be contributing to high rates of neurological disease in Nordic and Baltic nations. It also could be argued that high rates of neurological disease among humans is contributing to higher rates in the animal world.
Pioneering research found that Parkinson’s patients on the Faroe Islands have consumed about six times more whale meat and blubber than their neighbors who don’t have the disease. Maria Skaalum Petersen is working to shed light on the connection between sick seas, sick whales and sick people. Petersen is a researcher in the Department of Occupational and Public Health in the Faroe Islands health service. One of her projects has included a comparison of the prevalence of Parkinson’s disease (part of the TSE spectrum) in the Nordic countries.
She found that Parkinson’s disease is twice as prevalent on the Faroe Islands as in Norway and other Nordic countries. Unlike other Nordic countries, a traditional diet on the Faroe Islands typically includes pilot whale meat.
Predators, including some whales, are high on the food chain. Predators that consume predators are consuming the toxic build-up from every animal ever consumed. Therefore, predators (and the people who consume them) often serve as an excellent indicator of the health of an entire ecosystem, including prion contamination.
When serving as bio-indicators, not all whales are created equal. The whale meat sold in Norway and Iceland is mostly from minke whales, a species that has a diet much lower in the food chain. This means that minke whales don’t accumulate as many contaminants or prions as pilot whales. This means that the risks associated with whale meat is slightly less for the people in Norway, but it still has a fairly high rate of neurological disease.
“The Faroe Islanders eat pilot whales, while Norwegians eat baleen whales. Pilot whales have teeth and primarily eat fish and squid, which puts them higher on the food chain,” Petersen says.
Baleen whales feed by filtering zooplankton and krill into their mouths as they swim. In essence, they are vegetarians. Eating lower on the food chain lowers their prion exposure, but it doesn’t make them immune to the prion problem.
This study indicates that there is prion accumulation in whales–some more than others. It indicates that prions are in our oceans and onward upstream. It indicates that prions are in our food and water supplies and reckless sewage management is contributing to the problem. It reminds us of the hazards associated with wastewater reuse, sewage sludge disposal and biosolids in our communities and watersheds.
What can we learn from the Faroe Islands and whale meat? Prions are building up in the environment and in mammals now. This is a battle of pathway management. Time to manage the contamination is running out. Sewage mismanagement, including agricultural and industrial waste, is contributing to the problem.
If whales could talk, they would tell us to get our sh*t together and put it in a much safer place. Presently, we are recycling infectious sewage sludge, biosolids and reclaimed water throughout our watersheds. We are contaminating our own food and water supplies.
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Gary Chandler is a prion expert. He is the CEO of Crossbow Communications, author of several books and producer of documentaries about health and environmental issues around the world. Chandler is connecting the dots to the global surge in neurodegenerative disease, including Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, chronic wasting disease and other forms of prion disease.