Danish researchers have determined that the density of polar bear penis bones is being diminished by oceanic pollution.
Penis bones, or baculum, are also found in many species of mammal including dogs, cats, rodents, chimpanzees and bats, but not humans. Biologists believe that these bones aid in supporting the penis and increasing stimulation for the female during mating.
Between 1990 and 2000, scientists from Aarhus University in Denmark examined 279 polar bear baculum specimens. Polar bears with lower baculum density were more likely to be found in regions where the water was contaminated with PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), an industrial chemical once used in paints and insulation. These chemicals have been banned worldwide since 2001 but, like most artificial materials, take a long time to break down naturally.
A weakened baculum can negatively impact the polar bear’s reproduction habits, making them vulnerable to penile fracture. To humans, PCBs are a carcinogen, and can also cause adverse effects to the reproductive and immune systems.
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The discovery represents another blow to the survival of the polar bear, but by continuing to address climate change we may be able to ensure that the polar bear goes merely the way of the panda, not the way of the dodo.