Orca ‘apocalypse’: half of killer whales doomed to die from pollution

September 27, 2018

At least half of the world’s killer whale populations are doomed to extinction due to toxic and persistent pollution of the oceans, according to a major new study.

Although the poisonous chemicals, PCBs, have been banned for decades, they are still leaking into the seas. They become concentrated up the food chain; as a result, killer whales, the top predators, are the most contaminated animals on the planet. Worse, their fat-rich milk passes on very high doses to their newborn calves.

PCB concentrations found in killer whales can be 100 times safe levels and severely damage reproductive organs, cause cancer and damage the immune system. The new research analysed the prospects for killer whale populations over the next century and found those offshore from industrialised nations could vanish as soon as 30-50 years.

Among those most at risk are the UK’s last pod, where a recent death revealed one of the highest PCB levels ever recorded. Others off Gibraltar, Japan and Brazil and in the north-east Pacific are also in great danger. Killer whales are one of the most widespread mammals on earth but have already been lost in the North Sea, around Spain and many other places.

“It is like a killer whale apocalypse,” said Paul Jepson at the Zoological Society of London, part of the international research team behind the new study. “Even in a pristine condition they are very slow to reproduce.” Healthy killer whales take 20 years to reach peak sexual maturity and 18 months to gestate a calf.

PCBs were used around the world since the 1930s in electrical components, plastics and paints but their toxicity has been known for 50 years. They were banned by nations in the 1970s and 1980s but 80% of the 1m tonnes produced have yet to be destroyed and are still leaking into the seas from landfills and other sources.

The international Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants came into force in 2004 to tackle the issue, but Jepson said the clean-up is way behind schedule. “I think the Stockholm Convention is failing,” he said. “The only area where I am optimistic is the US. They alone produced 50% of all PCBs, but they have been getting PCB levels down consistently for decades. All we have done in Europe is ban them and then hope they go away.”

The researchers said PCBs are just one pollutant found in killer whales, with “a long list of additional known and as yet unmeasured contaminants present”. Further problems for killer whales include the loss of key prey species such as tuna and sharks to overfishing and also growing underwater noise pollution.

The new research, published in the journal Science, examined PCB contamination in 351 killer whales, the largest analysis yet. The scientists then took existing data on how PCBs affect calf survival and immune systems in whales and used this to model how populations will fare in the future. “Populations of Japan, Brazil, Northeast Pacific, Strait of Gibraltar, and the United Kingdom are all tending toward complete collapse,” they concluded.

Lucy Babey, deputy director at conservation group Orca, said: “Our abysmal failures to control chemical pollution ending up in our oceans has caused a killer whale catastrophe on an epic scale. It is essential that requirements to dispose safely of PCBs under the Stockholm Convention are made legally binding at the next meeting in May 2019 to help stop this scandal.” Scientists have previously found “extraordinary” levels of toxic pollution even in the 10km-deep Mariana trench in the Pacific Ocean.

“This new study is a global red alert on the state of our oceans,” said Jennifer Lonsdale, chair of the Wildlife and Countryside Link’s whales group. “If the UK government wants its [proposed] Environment Act to be world-leading, it must set ambitious targets on PCB disposal and protect against further chemical pollution of our waters.”

The research shows that killer whale populations in the high north, off Norway, Iceland, Canada and the Faroes, are far less contaminated due to their distance from major PCB sources. ”The only thing that gives me hope about killer whales in the longer term is, yes, we are going to lose populations all over the industrialised areas, but there are populations that are doing reasonably well in the Arctic,” said Jepson.

If a global clean-up, which would take decades, can be achieved, these populations could eventually repopulate empty regions, he said, noting that killer whales are very intelligent, have strong family bonds and hunt in packs. “It is an incredibly adaptive species – they have been able to [live] from the Arctic to the Antarctic and everywhere in between.”

He praised the billion-dollar “superfund” clean-ups in the US, such as in the Hudson River and Puget Sound, where the polluter has paid most of the costs: “The US is going way beyond the Stockholm Convention because they know how toxic PCBs are.”

Source: The Guardian.com

Watch as killer whales swim in waters in Montego Bay, Jamaica

June 13, 2018

Swimmers have been warned not to go near the animals

A large pod of killer whales are seen swimming in waters off Jamaica in this social media footage.

The video, posted on Jamaica Environment Trust’s Facebook page, is reportedly from Montego Bay.

Swimmers have been warned to keep their distance from the majestic creatures.

Lecturer in Environmental Studies at the Jamaican University of Technology Christine O’Sullivan told loopjamaica.com that while orcas have attacked humans in the past, it usually happens in captivity.

The teacher added that the animals may be migrating or it could be their natural area, while warning that if their behaviour is affected by people they could leave their feeding grounds.

She urged watchers not to go near the creatures, who may have a calf with them.

She said: “We have to be aware that these are wild animals so I would not recommend anyone trying to get into the water with them.

“If you are in a boat don’t get too close to them and don’t approach them too closely or too rapidly.

“They may be very protective of that calf as well and when you have a lot of boats in an area attempting to follow a group of dolphins, it tends to affect their behavior. Killer whales are dolphins.”

Source: Irish Mirror.ie

VIDEO: Killer whales spotted in MoBay waters; swimmers warned

June 11, 2018

Jamaicans have been urged not to get into the water with the killer whales that have been spotted off the coast of Montego Bay, St James.

A short video purportedly of the group of orcas is making the rounds on social media and has many Jamaicans excited at the rare sighting.

But Lecturer in Environmental Studies at the University of Technology, Christine O’Sullivan – who has a Masters in Marine Mammal Science from the University of St Andrews, Scotland – told Loop News that while there have been no reports of orcas hurting humans in the wild, it’s best to keep a safe distance from the huge animals.

O’Sullivan noted that where orcas have attacked humans, it is usually in captivity.

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Jamaicans have been urged not to get into the water with the killer whales that have been spotted off the coast of Montego Bay, St James.

A short video purportedly of the group of orcas is making the rounds on social media and has many Jamaicans excited at the rare sighting.

But Lecturer in Environmental Studies at the University of Technology, Christine O’Sullivan – who has a Masters in Marine Mammal Science from the University of St Andrews, Scotland – told Loop News that while there have been no reports of orcas hurting humans in the wild, it’s best to keep a safe distance from the huge animals.

O’Sullivan noted that where orcas have attacked humans, it is usually in captivity.Killer Whales Off Jamaica 00:0001:05

“We have to be aware that these are wild animals so I would not recommend anyone trying to get into the water with them. If you are in a boat don’t get too close to them and don’t approach them too closely or too rapidly,” the marine scientist said.

O’Sullivan explained that such action can affect their behavior. She noted that the video of the group of whales suggests there is at least one calf among them.

“They may be very protective of that calf as well and when you have a lot of boats in an area attempting to follow a group of dolphins, it tends to affect their behavior. Killer whales are dolphins,” O’Sullivan said.

She stressed that if their behavior is affected, they may for example leave an important feeding ground.

To avoid interrupting the behavior of the whales, O’Sullivan said the animals should be viewed from a respectful distance.

When asked why they may have shown up in Jamaican waters, O’Sullivan explained it coud be their natural grounds, or part of their migratory route. She reasoned that they may normally be found in Jamaican waters but farther off shore.

She reminded that some years ago, the Negril Marine Park had photographed some killer whales along with sperm whales off the coast of Negril.

Source: Loop Jamaica.com

ST VINCENT – Whaler defends killing of three orcas

April 17, 2018

The whaler whose crew harpooned and killed three orcas off Barrouallie, a town in western St Vincent, on Sunday, has defended his action, saying that the kill is important to the livelihood of townsmen, and that they have broken no local law.

Three orcas, one male and two females, measuring 30 and 24 feet, were caught as they scattered a pod of short-finned pilot whales that the whalers were initially pursuing, the captain of the crew, Samuel Hazelwood, told iWitness News on Monday.

Hazelwood, who has been whaling for more than 30 years, spoke to iWitness News amidst a group of hostile whaling industry workers who were carving up the carcasses for resale to vendors.

He was mindful of the negative press that comes with the killing of orcas, but noted that the government was yet to pass a law banning the killing of orcas, as Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves said in April 2016 that his government would have done.

“The prime minister said he is going to ban them (the killing of orcas). I have been fishing for 30-something years now and I came and met the older fishermen catching the killer whales. They say it is endangered [but] when you go and research on YouTube and Facebook, it is not an endangered species,” Hazelwood told iWitness News.

In April 2016, amidst local and international outcry after the whalers harpooned and killed two orcas in the presence of cruise visitors on a whale and dolphin watch tour, Gonsalves had said that his government would pass a law to ban the killing of orcas.

Hazelwood said that Barrouallie whalers would obey such a law if it were passed.

“The prime minister said he is going to ban us. Whenever he put the ban in place like the [ban on the catching of ] turtle and they say stop catch them (orcas), we [will] adhere. But there is no law right now to say don’t catch them. This is something that we have been doing for centuries,” Hazelwood told iWitness News.

“Whenever they put the ban,” we don’t have any problems.

He said that on Sunday, his brother called him saying that he was pursuing a pod of pilot whales.

“And when we were chasing the black fish, the killer whales came and started running them down [so] we couldn’t catch any. When you see them (orcas), life is really difficult for us.”

Hazelwood accused the prime minister of not understanding the plight of Barrouallie whalers and those who depend on the industry for their livelihood.

“This is something that a lot of people in Barrouallie [depend on]. These killer whales that we catch here today, you are going to get more than a hundred and something people making a money for the day. All of the shops are going to benefit, so it is something that we make good money from.”

Hazelwood said that the only parts of the whales that are thrown away are the bones and the intestines.

“Everything [else] is sold: teeth, everything,” he said.

In St Vincent and the Grenadines, the meat of the whale is cooked fresh, or dried. The oil is use in the treatment of a number of ailments and after the oil is removed from the blubber by frying it, the processed blubber, called “crisps” is eaten as a snack.

Hazelwood told iWitness News that fishermen go out to sea every day, but only meet killer whales about four times annually.

He, however, said that when orcas are in the area, whalers could go for two months without catching pilot whales.

Barrouallie whalers have been killing short-finned pilot whales as part of a century-plus-old tradition in this multi-island nation.

In Bequia, an island in the northern Grenadines, the International Whaling Commission allows whalers to kill four humpback whales every year as part of their century-old indigenous whaling tradition, but whalers sometime go for years without a single kill.

The orcas, on Sunday, bring to nine the number of the cetaceans that Barrouallie whalers are known to have killed since 2015, when four orcas were killed.

A whaling industry insider, who asked not to be named in this article, told iWitness News on Monday that it is highly unlikely that the Gonsalves-led Unity Labour Party administration would pass a law banning the killing the orcas before the next general election.

Gonsalves’ government is into a second consecutive term with a one-seat majority in the nation’s parliament and the commenter told iWitness News that the Barrouallie whalers and their extended families are largely supporters of the ruling Unity Labour Party.

To ban the killing of orcas would amount to taking food out of the mouths of the whalers and other persons who benefit from the industry and they will punish the government at the polls for it, the industry insider told iWitness News on Monday.

Meanwhile, speaking on radio in April 2016, days after iWitness Newsbroke the news of the killing of the orcas, Gonsalves condemned the whalers’ action.

“… what he did was plain wrong. Not just because it happened in front of tourists, but [because] he must not kill the orcas.”

The prime minister noted that there is an international ban on the killing of bottlenose dolphins, and killer whales and SVG has signed on to the ban.

He further noted that four killer whales were killed in the Central Leeward town in July 2015.

“And the fourth one, they had so much meat that some of the meat spoiled,” Gonsalves said.

“What will happen is that legislation will be brought to stop that killing. It will be made an offence in the same way we have done with turtles,” said Gonsalves, whose government banned the killing of turtles, harvesting of their eggs or disturbance of their nests, effective Jan. 1, 2017.

Source: Barbados Today

Victory for Whales! St. Vincent Introduces Legislation to Ban Orca Hunting

Great news! The prime minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Dr. Ralph Gozalves, has announced that the island nation will instate a law banning orca hunting. This announcement arrived five days after two orcas were harpooned and prepared for consumption in front of a group of tourists on a whale-watching tour. The disturbing images of this tragedy can be viewed here, but we warn you, these are incredibly graphic photos.

Broadcasted over the radio, Gonzalves stated, “What will happen is that legislation will be brought to stop that killing. It will be made an offense in the same way we have done with turtles.” (Since January 1, 2017, the government has banned the killing of turtles, the harvesting of turtle eggs, and the disturbance of turtle nests.)

Gonzalves said that this new legislation is in alignment with an international ban against orca hunting that St. Vincent already agreed to several years ago. He further went on to say that the tradition of whale hunting should not go against the progressing global views shunning the practice.

According to Gonzalves, “It is important for us to say that we have our traditions and we need to keep traditions, but we can’t keep traditions out of sync with the rest of the world or have those traditions continue in a manner which is injurious to us…if you think you are an island onto yourself, you will end up with what is called autarchy, which means a splendid self-reliance. But we can’t have a splendid self-reliance because we wouldn’t have motorcars, we wouldn’t have cell phones, because we don’t produce them.” This logical standpoint against whale hunting will hopefully convince those in favor of the practice that killing whales has a domino effect that will, in turn, hit them as well.

Source: One Green Planet

Cruise Ship Cancels Tours in St Vincent After Slaughter of Killer Whales in Full View of Visitors

April 5, 2017

KINGSTOWN, St Vincent, Thursday April 5 2017 – On the heels of horrified tourists witnessing the killing of two orcas in Vincentian waters, a cruise ship has taken strong action in protest of the age old tradition.

TUI Discovery stopped short of pulling out of the destination, but has cancelled all its whale and dolphin watching tours, iWitness News has reported.

In a grim account, crew member on one of the two Fantasea tours on a whale and dolphin excursion, Ken Issacs, told the online news site that the delight of the rare sighting of a pod of four orcas, also known as killer whales, turned into a bloody tragedy as whalers slaughtered two of the huge sea creatures just off the Leeward coast.

He said the whaling boat, a pirogue with a modified shotgun with a harpoon mounted on the bow, carried three fishermen.

As he realized that the men were taking aim at an orca, he shouted to them to leave it alone, but was immediately dismissed.

A persistent Issacs then instructed the captain of the boat to go over to where the large killer whale was, but as they turned away the fishermen shot the first orca.

Issacs recounted hearing a loud explosion as the spear hit the killer whale.

He said guests were visibly shaken and many were crying, even as they returned to shore in Kingstown.

Issacs, who was angered by the incident, lamented that while whaling remains a legal practice in St Vincent, there was nothing traditional about people in speedboats using spear guns to kill whales.

He urged the government to ban whaling and instead develop a commercial market for whale watching.

Source: Caribbean 360

St. Vincent to introduce legislation outlawing the killing of orcas

April 5, 2017

The St. Vincent and the Grenadines says it will pass legislation outlawing the killing of orcas, after fishermen killed two of the marine mammals in the presence of a whale-watching group last week.

The killing of the orcas — commonly called killer whales – bring to six the number of the dolphins known to have been killed in St. Vincent since July 2015.

Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves said that the law to be introduced by his government will be in keeping with an international ban that the country signed on to years ago.

Gonsalves made the announcement on radio five days after the two orcas — which were among a pod of four — were killed while being watched by some 40 cruise ship passengers on a whale and dolphin watching tour with a local operator.

Thomson Cruises, owners of TUI Discovery, the cruise ship on which the tourists arrived in St. Vincent, have since cancelled all of its whale and dolphin watch bookings with Fantasea Tours, the local operator that conducted the tours last week.

Speaking on a radio programme here on Tuesday, Gonsalves said that “the person or persons who were involved in killing the two ‘killer whales’, the orcas, … is a very hard working fisherman.

“But what he did was plain wrong. What he did, I want to emphasise this, what he did was plain wrong. Not just because it happened in front of tourists, but (because) he must not kill the orcas.”

He said there are regulations, adding that a few weeks ago there was a pre-budget discussion including fisherfolk, some of whom are from Barrouallie, a town on St. Vincent’s west coast, where the short-finned pilot whale, known locally as “Black Fish” are hunted regularly and are widely consumed across the country.

But Gonsalves noted that there is an international ban on the killing of bottlenose dolphins, and killer whales and St. Vincent and the Grenadines was a signatory to the ban.

He further noted that four killer whales were killed in the central leeward town in June 2015 “and the fourth one, they had so much meat that some of the meat spoiled.

“Now, some people are allowing their greed to get the better of them,” Gonsalves said, adding that some have claimed that mixing killer whale and pilot whales’ meat makes it tastier.

“That’s what people say. I don’t know. I don’t eat it. I don’t eat whale either — that is to say, the humpback whale that they catch off Bequia.

“What has been happening here, I intend to let (Minister of Fisheries) Saboto (Caesar) continue the discussion which he started,” the prime minister said, adding that Caesar went to Barrouallie after the consultation and spoke to the fisherfolk.

“And they understood. The report I got is that the meeting was very positive and then they gone ahead — at least one person or two persons, gone ahead and do this foolish thing, wrong thing.”

Gonsalves said that his government would take a stand legislatively against the killing of prohibited species.

“What will happen is that legislation will be brought to stop that killing. It will be made an offence in the same way we have done with turtles,” said Gonsalves whose government has banned the killing or turtles, harvesting of their eggs or disturbance of their nest, effective January 1, 2017.
He said that he is sure that the vast majority of residents of Barrouallie “are upset with what that particular brother did.

“And I am saying that that brother is a hard-working fisherman. I like him but I can’t like what he does there.  And I am urging all who are involved in these tours to understand the position of the government and to have it transmitted. We are interested in conservation. One of the things which we shouldn’t allow — our tourist friends, they shouldn’t have a kneejerk reaction. They should also listen to voices like the one I’m speaking [in].”

Gonsalves seems to pre-empt the defence that whaling is part of the local tradition.

“It is important for us to say that we have our traditions and we need to keep traditions, but we can’t keep traditions out of sync with the rest of the world or have those traditions continue in a manner which is injurious to us.

“Otherwise, if you think you are an island onto yourself, you will end up with what is called autarchy, which means a splendid self-reliance. But we can’t have a splendid self-reliance because we wouldn’t have motorcars, we wouldn’t have cell phone, because we don’t produce them.

“So, this splendid isolationist self-reliance and a chauvinistic disposition towards tradition,” Gonsalves said.

The prime minister said killing the orcas was unnecessary because he understands that just the week before, the whalers killed six pilot whales.

“About the market, I am told, there was an abundance of blackfish. But it is precisely that kind of a wrong-headed action, which would spur action to curb that kind of wrongheadedness. We want to make sure that the traditional black fish trade continues in relation to the pilot,” he said.

The killing of the orcas has intensified the discussion about whaling in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, including on the northern Grenadine island of Bequia where whalers caught a humpback whale mid-March as part of a tradition that began in 1875.

St. Vincent and the Grenadines is allowed to catch four humpbacks whales every year, but actually catches an average of one humpback whale every two years.

Source: Antigua Observer.com