Somewhere along the beautiful coast of Big Sur, a California Condor sinks its beak into the decaying flesh of a dead sea lion. It’s a gruesome sight, but it’s not unusual—even 10,000 years ago condors were feasting on the carcasses of washed-up marine mammals. The difference between then and now is that today’s deceased pinnipeds come chock-full of harmful toxins, the rotting legacy of decades of poor environmental regulations in the United States.
It’s theorized that beached mammals might have actually kept condors from going extinct at the end of the Pleistocene, when they were steadily deprived of the corpses of prehistoric land animals such as mammoths, sabercats, and giant sloths. But new research published last month in Environmental Science & Technology suggests that those marine scraps could now be putting the endangered vultures at greater risk by exposing them to an old, familiar foe for conservationists: DDT.