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

Entangled orca calf saved by whale watchers (video)

August 4, 2018

By Candace Calloway Whiting on August 4, 2018 at 10:26 AM

On Wednesday (August 1st) three whale watching boats off the coast of Portugal happened upon a killer whale calf that they thought was spyhopping repeatedly. As they drew closer however they discovered that the calf was entangled in a fishing net and was barely able to raise its head to breathe.

In a Facebook post, SeaXplorer Sagres reported that the mother was nearby but could only watch as her calf struggled against the grasp of the netting that ensnared the young whale. The people on the boats were determined to help, but the first attempts to cut the calf free were fruitless, raising the emotions even higher.

When emotions run high there is a tendency to act without forethought – but these seasoned crews took the time to assess the entanglement, then developed a successful plan.

One of the boats threw their anchor out, then circled the calf several times until the anchor line wrapped around the net’s line.  The crew and some of the passengers then pulled up the anchor and attached net until finally there was just the rope around the calf’s tail fluke.

When the line was cut the freed calf rejoined it’s mother and everyone rejoiced – and people everywhere share in celebrating the actions by these quick acting, yet thoughtful, whale watching crews.


On this video you can see how everything went. The cutting of the rope and the young orca happily swimming next to her mum!
A very happy outcome by teamwork of all dolphin watching companies:
SeaXplorer Sagres Mar Ilimitado Sealife – Dolphin watching Algarve

To watch the VIDEO visit the Source at Seattle epi.com

Everything you need to know about the killer whales spotted off North Wales coast

June 10, 2018

One of the mammals has been identified as John Coe from the West Coast Community who was last seen in Ireland in March

Experts have identified one of the two killer whales seen off the North Wales coast this weekend.

The two orcas were spotted by Holly Page, the RSPB and visitors at South Stack near Holyhead on Saturday.

They are thought to be part of a group known as the West Coast Community which are normally seen around the Hebrides in Scotland.

Ceri Wyn Morris, a marine mammal specialist for Natural Resources Wales said: “We occasionally get sightings of killer whales in Welsh waters, but it is rare to have a sighting backed up with such good photographs which enable us to identify the actual individuals.

“Two killer whales were photographed off South Stack, and we can see that one of them – a large bull killer whale, has a distinctive notch in his dorsal fin.

“We can recognise this individual as ‘W01’ also known as John Coe – one of the West Coast Community of killer whales, usually found off the west coast of Scotland.

“The identity of the second animal is less clear but it is possible that it’s another male from the same group.”

Ceri said John Coe was last seen off Dingle in Ireland in March of this year, after travelling over 600km in just seven days from Mull.

The West Coast community of killer whales are the only ‘resident’ population of killer whales in the UK. Other killer whales do visit Scottish waters from Norway and Iceland, but they are thought not to mix with the resident West Coast Community.

Ceri added: “Sadly only eight individuals remain in this group, and in the 20 years that they have been studied, they have never been observed to have produced a calf. It seems that this group is at high risk of going extinct within our lifetime.

“In 2016, one of the group, a female named Lulu was found dead on the Hebridean island of Tiree in Scotland.

“A post-mortem revealed that sadly she died after having been entangled in fishing ropes.

“Further analysis revealed a shocking story – the levels of Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCB ) pollution in her blubber were extremely high.

“PCBs are toxic chemicals banned in Europe in the 1980s, but they persist in the environment and find their way into the ocean.

“As killer whales are at the top of the food chain, PCBs accumulate in their blubber. The PCB levels found in Lulu were shockingly high – 20 times higher than the ‘safe’ level that we would expect whales and dolphins to be able to manage with.

“She was deemed one of the most contaminated animals on the planet – raising questions about the future of this small and diminishing group of resident killer whales.”

Ceri explained that while it is incredibly exciting to see killer whales in Wales, they are not the only marine mammals to inhabit our waters .

Bottlenose dolphins, Risso’s dolphins, grey seals and Harbour porpoises are frequently seen off our coasts.

Anyone who sees marine mammals in Wales is encouraged to report their sightings to www.seawatchfoundation.org.uk experts understand how marine mammals are using our seas.

The information help Natural Resources Wales improve our evidence on the diversity of Welsh marine wildlife to conserve it now and in the future.

Source: Daily Post.co.uk

Scientists will test beached orca body found in Shetland

January 16, 2017

The dead orca was spotted at the uninhabited beach at Linga, with Scottish Natural Heritage later confirming that it was an adult.

Local manager Karen Hall said the organisation is keen to get samples from the whale to find out more about its death and to see if it was in a photo ID catalogue.

Staff from the Scottish Marine Animal Stranding Scheme are also considering coming to Shetland from their base in Inverness to assess the orca.

It was discovered almost a year after one of the last nine remaining resident killer whales in the UK was found dead on a beach in the Inner Hebrides.

That orca, known to researchers as Lulu, was discovered beached on Tiree on January 3 last year.

Lulu was one of a pod of orcas that patrol the waters around the Hebrides and eastern Irish coast.

Scientists now believe there might be just eight animals remaining in the pod, the only resident orca community in British waters.

No calves have been born since researchers first began tracking the West Coast orcas in the 1980s, with some biologists claiming pollution in the water has led to high rates of infant mortality.

Scotland’s only resident family of killer whales seems doomed to die out.

The small, isolated population of five males and three females have never produced offspring since studies began, raising fears it faces imminent extinction.

Some killer whales have been discovered to regularly travel over 800 miles from Iceland each summer.

Source: Herald Scotland.com

Orca washed up near Walls

January 13, 2017

A DEAD orca has washed up on a beach on an island near Walls.

The marine animal was spotted at the uninhabited Linga on Thursday and Scottish Natural Heritage later confirmed that it was an adult.

Local manager Karen Hall said the organisation is keen to get samples from the whale to find out more about its death and to see if it was in a photo ID catalogue.

She said it was “quite unusual” to see a killer whale washed up on Shetland’s shores as they are used to being near land.

Scottish Marine Animal Stranding Scheme (SMASS) staff are interested in coming to Shetland from their base in Inverness to assess the orca.

The group said on Facebook: “It is in a fresh condition and SMASS is going to attempt to get to the island to do a necropsy and hopefully establish the cause of death.

“This is a unique opportunity to learn more about these important members of the marine ecosystem, however given its location it is going to be logistically challenging and at this point in time we are unsure whether we will be able to get to the island at all.”

Source: shetnews.co.uk

Grisly footage shows post-mortem on a baby killer whale that was perfectly HEALTHY when it was beached on Scottish Island by Storm Caroline and died

December 22, 2017

  • The baby killer whale was swept inland by Storm Caroline’s 100mph winds 
  • Scientists carried out post-mortem on the three metre-long creature in Shetland
  • The gruesome footage shows the orca being cut apart and its organs examined
  • It is understood the four-year-old whale calf suffered an agonising death

A post-mortem on a killer whale calf swept 25 metres inland by Storm Caroline has confirmed the creature was healthy when it was stranded.

Grisly footage shows the orca being cut apart and its organs examined – all of which appeared to show no signs of pre-existing damage.

The clip shows veterinary pathologist Dr Andrew Brownlow carrying out an autopsy on the whale after it was dumped in a field by the 100mph storm.

The marine animal expert from the Scottish Marine Animal Strandings Scheme travelled to Eshaness in Shetland earlier this week to conduct the investigation.

It is understood the four-year-old whale calf suffered an agonising death when it became stranded on shore while still alive, on December 7.

The three-metre long animal was discovered by a member of the public on the west coast of Shetland’s main island.

In the gruesome clip, Dr Brownlow and staff from the Hillswick Wildlife Sanctuary roll the whale onto its stomach before taking various measurements.

At the start he describes the aims of the autopsy, saying: ‘The thing we’re really interested in, given its a killer whale, is these animals feed right at the very top of the food web.

‘They eat marine mammals which themselves eat fish, they eat everything else. So whatever is going on with killer whales is representative of whatever else is going on in the ocean.

‘This year and the last couple of years we’ve found quite alarming results with killer whales, not of this population but of ones that are off the coast of the western isles, what’s called the west coast community.

To see photos of the necropsy visit the source at Daily Mail.co.uk

Community Comes Together to Rescue 5 Wild Orcas Who Were Stuck in Shallow Waters for 19 Days

An incredible orca rescue was carried out recently by Norwegian Orca Survey in a bay off of Brønnøysund, on the central coast of Norway. It is believed the animals were trapped in the bay for as long as nineteen days, but, fortunately, that is not the case anymore.

Before the operation, the team of rescuers spent a couple of days closely investigating the group of orcas. The rescue proved to be a big undertaking in which took part 30 boats, 16 kayaks, and more than 60 people! The ships followed the animals at a safe distance in order to help them find their way out of the bay.

The cooperation and collective effort had wonderful results. After five hours, the orcas finally passed the shallow strait and swam out into the open waters.

As Norwegian Orca Survey wrote on their Facebook page, this fantastic operation not only enabled the team to rescue the lives of five orcas but was also “an incredible human experience.” The team also thanks the local community of the area for their support and for taking part in the efforts to save the orcas.

To learn more about Norwegian Orca Survey, click here.

Source: One Green Planet.org

Divers record underwater encounter with killer whales off Norway

January 25, 2017

A diver off the coast of Norway captured video footage of an unusual underwater encounter, with a pod of killer whales.

The video, posted to Instagram by user bobcatlisa, shows the diver and her companions scuba diving off Tromso, Norway, when they encounter the whales.

The black and white whales swim in a group past the humans, not appearing to notice them.

The orcas do not appear bothered when one of the human dives swims in for a closer look.

To see the VIDEO visit the source upi.com

Rare orca autopsy suggests whale died after losing calf

January 18, 2017

A RARE autopsy carried out on a killer whale washed up on a Scottish beach has revealed a tragic story known all too well known to humans.

Experts believe the orca lost her calf during birth and then likely died as a result of complications from pregnancy.

The post mortem examination revealed that the previously healthy whale had suffered a prolapsed uterus and had a severe infection which had affected her stomach, liver and intestines.

A team from the Scottish Marine Animal Strandings Scheme (SMASS) arrived on the island of Linga, Shetland, on Monday after the whale washed up last Thursday.

The four-strong team took four hours to carry out their investigations and concluded that although she was alive when she washed up, she wouldn’t have survived if anyone had been there to help and was unfortunately in severe pain before she died.

The team now hope to learn more about the species from the samples they have taken back to their laboratory in Inverness.

Hillswick Wildlife Sanctuary in Shetland, uploaded gruesome video footage of the killer whale being dissected by the SMASS experts.

The sanctuary wrote: “This video is not for the faint hearted as it shows graphic images of a killer whale being cut up by experts carrying out a necropsy.”

The clip starts as the dead whale is towed off the beach and taken to a nearby landing for the experts to carry out their examination.

The camera films as the team open up the carcass to reveal its innards and start to saw and chop different sections away from the body.

At one point, the team can be seen unravelling the killer whale’s intestines which can grow to over 50m in length.

The footage ends with shots of different sections of the whale, including a part of its mouth with teeth and what appears to be its heart.

Andrew Brownlow, part of the SMASS team said: “We’ve been lucky enough to do quite a comprehensive post-mortem on a female killer whale, which is quite a rare species for strandings.

“They feed right at the top of the food chain and are a good representation of what’s going on in the marine environment.

“This one is an interesting story. She has a few things going on. One is that she’s prolapsed her uterus which we think has led to her stranding.

“There’s evidence she was alive before she came onto the beach. In addition to that, she has a really quite severe infection through her abdominal cavity.”

He continued: “We’ll now get some samples back to the lab and work out if it was because she was very poorly she lost her calf or was it the other way around?

“My gut feeling is that she was happy and healthy until very recently and whatever has done this has happened relatively quickly.

“She had been pregnant and for some reason, something went wrong with that and she lost the calf and got very sick.

“That’s the reasons that she then ended up on a beach and an animal that size, it’s very difficult for her to recover from that.

“Nobody wants to see an animal like this wash up dead but we’re probably going to be able to find out a lot more on this species.”

Source: Dead Line News.co.uk