Tar Sand Pollution Linked to Limp Dicks in Otters, Says Study

River otters near the Alberta tar sands' crude oil pollution are experiencing brittle penis bones.
Brad Bergan

Otters are having trouble in the proverbial bedroom as toxic oil waste products adversely affect their ability to, well, perform — according to a new study recently published in the journal Chemosphere.

And by "perform," we mean a general embrittling of the otters' penis bones. This might feel like a sensationalist development, but the science behind the lack of erections in otters reflects a broader reality — one we find quite sad.


Otters experiencing limp dicks, toxic tar sand pollution

The study — hailing from researchers at McMaster University — investigated the population of river otters living near Alberta's hub of crude oil projects — which is also the largest in the world. In this busy place, fuel is extracted from tar sands — which is a sludge-like mix of clay, water, sand, and black bitumen from beneath the area's boreal forest.

The team knows how exposure to compounds present in crude oil often decreases several animals' reproductive capabilities, they decided to study the local otters' long, curved penis bones — also called a baculum.

Hydrocarbon exposure linked to brittle penis bones in otters

To accomplish this, they hired professional trappers to gather three dozen river otters. Then, the team scanned their crotches with computed tomography (more commonly known as CT scans) to see what was going on in there.

Upon comparing the phallus bones of otters with other otters from less-polluted areas, they observed a remarkably stronger and more dense structure of the bones in the latter (control) group. This higher density and strength of the otter crotch was, they determined, largely due to the creatures' lack of exposure to harmful hydrocarbons.

Tar sand pollution may also affect human reproductive systems

The team of scientists also gathered baculum from otter carcasses in the possession of fur traders — both in and outside of the area — to perform tests and see how much load (weight) the bones could take before they snapped into pieces. Dark. It's probably relevant to also say the team observed dick bones from the tar sand area not holding up to destructive and non-destructive tests, too.

The study authors said the Alberta river otters' weakened dick bones can disrupt the creatures' capacity to reproduce — sending waves of disruption up and down the local food chain. The research explains how the river otters enjoy the status of "sentinel species," — which means they typically are first to suffer effects of contaminants, before other vulnerable species show symptoms of damage, Gizmodo reports.

If this isn't bad enough, the scientists fear tar sand pollution might also harm human reproductive systems.

Climate change, pollution will have personal consequences

Predictably, this is not the first study linking dysfunctional dicks to environmental pollution. In 2013, a study showed how in England, chronic exposure to organic pollutants in rivers can cause a drop in penis sizes — possibly because of the toxins' capacity to mess with hormonal functions.

These same toxins might also have negative effects on human penises. But while the toxins stemming from Alberta crude oil weaken the otters' dick bones, the scientists also noted how exposure to some contaminants — like strontium, retene, and iron — showed a marked strengthening of the baculum.

While the effects of global climate change are typically associated with large-scale flooding, wildfires, and melting ice caps, the truth is our human species will — much like the river otters — begin to experience environmental shifts in surprising and personal ways we take for granted — which could include changes in food availability, where we may live, and, regrettably — whether we can easily engage in sex, or not.


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