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

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Sydney teacher face-to-face with killer whales

January 9, 2018

A Sydney teacher has come face-to-face with a “curious” pod of killer whales while snorkelling off the coast of Papua New Guinea.

Rachel Stewart, from Dee Why, travelled to Kimbe to see its “incredibly pristine” reefs but had no idea she would end up having a close encounter with two rare marine animals – a pod of killer whales and an elusive Mola Mola sunfish.

Ms Stewart’s fiancé spotted the pod frolicking in the distance on the way back to the main island on January 5 after their group had already completed two dives with the Walindi Plantation Resort.

“The crew said they were just dolphins but Matt knew the fin,” Ms Stewart told nine.com.au.

The couple had heard about orcas travelling through the area before their trip and debated whether they would dive in if they saw a pod.

“We said we would be totally relaxed if they approached us in the water but that we wouldn’t jump in if we saw them from the boat.”

But Ms Stewart said she could not help herself.

She said the crew initially had some reservations after noticing the group were with some calves and appeared to be feeding on the sunfish.

“We considered not getting in with the babies in case they were protective,” Ms Stewart said.

“It took a while to get the guts up,” she added.

Ms Stewart said the apex predators swam straight up to her when she got in.

“I was a little bit scared only because the local guy was,” she said.

“Once I was in the water [the orca] dropped the sunfish and started circling around me.

“When he stopped he was only about a metre away and that’s when [the crew] told me to get back in the boat.”

Ms Stewart was only in the water for about five minutes, but said the pod uncharacteristically stayed with the boat for about two hours.

“They usually see them in the area around June or July so it was totally out of season and rare for them to stick around for that long.”

She said a dive expert on the expedition with them was surprisingly more impressed by the sunfish.

“He had been doing this for 30 years and had only seen a sunfish twice.”

“It was about three metres across if that gives you any idea about how big the orcas were,” she said.

Ms Stewart, who performed her 100th dive on the trip, has swum alongside dolphins, sharks, turtles and whale sharks, but said her experience with the orcas was particularly special.

“The orcas knew we were there. Most of the time fish don’t even really notice you but they were looking right at us, head tilted and curious,” Ms Stewart said.

Owners of the hotel the couple stayed at said the massive marine predators were generally “timid” and had no issues swimming with them before.

“They said not to be scared and that they were just like big dolphins,” Ms Stewart said.

“We had actually just been swimming with dolphins just before the orcas but had been so caught up in the hype we kind of forgot about it,” she added.

Source: 9news.com.au

Killer whale sighted in Puerto Galera

April 23, 2017

The sighting of a killer whale in Puerto Galera, a town in Oriental Mindoro and a popular tourist destination in Luzon, has caught the attention of marine wildlife-conservation advocates.

The fascinating marine mammal, about 7 meters long, was photographed and posted on Facebook (FB) through the account of Kai Tagaki, who first thought it was a dolphin jumping up and down.

Posted on April 18, at 12:38 p.m., the FB post was shared 383 times as of this writing and drew various reactions.

One FB comment expressed fear that it might attack humans. Another comment said the sighting is a good sign—and that the health of the marine ecosystem is improving.

Except for the photo, not much information was provided in the FB. Director Theresa Mundita S. Lim of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) said the report needs to be verified, although she said the killer whale could have been following its prey and found itself in that part of the Philippine waters.

She said it might have other companions, because killer whales are known to travel in groups during migration and while hunting preys.

“It may be after a prey and somehow got lost. But they usually hunt in group,” said Lim, who cautioned fishermen against hunting it down.

The largest among dolphin species, killer whales feed on almost anything they can find—including tuna, dolphins, sharks and even whale sharks. But it has no record of attack on humans.

The Philippines is a member of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals, which include marine wildlife like sea turtles, dolphins, sharks and whales.

The Marine Wildlife Watch of the Philippines (MWWP), a non-governmental organization that advocates marine-wildlife conservation and their habitat in the Philippines, shared the post.

The group monitors illegal fishing or hunting of threatened marine wildlife, particularly those on the critically endangered list of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

AA Yaptinchay, executive director of MWWP, said sightings of orca, or killer whale, is not new in the Philippines. While saying that a killer whale having been photographed is very rare, their sightings is not new.

“There are records of sightings of orca before. It is the most cosmopolitan among all whales,” he said. Orcas, or killer whales, belong to the dolphin family, he said.

Yaptinchay said unless they are captured or harmed, killer whales do not attack humans.

“There is no record of them eating humans,” he said.

He said it is not in orca’s nature to feed on human, although it feasts large fish species and preys almost on anything it can feed on—including deadly sharks.

Yaptinchay said the sightings of the killer whale should be a wake-up call to concerned government agencies to intensify monitoring of Philippine seas.

“Only 30 percent of our seas have been surveyed so far,” he said.

The group said conducting surveys will reveal how rich the Philippine seas is, and what we stand to lose in failing to protect our marine areas against destructive human activities.

Hunting of marine wildlife, he said, remains unchecked despite local and international laws prohibiting such acts of terrorism against these amazing creatures of the sea.

Source: Business Mirror.com

Killer Whales Spotted in Gorontalo Waters

March 13, 2017

TEMPO.COGorontalo – Orccinus Orca or commonly known as killer whales, can be seen roaming in the waters near Bilolandunga Village located in Gorontalo, North Sulawesi on Sunday, March 12, 2017.

Fajrah Paputungan (20), a resident of the village, claimed to have witnessed the emergence of orca whales at 08:00 Central Indonesian Time. “At the time, Tomini bay was calm, and the whales were swimming by the seashore that was not far from my house,” Fajrah said.

Even though the whale’s activities were not too distant from the village’s coastline, none of the four witnesses had the time to document the sighting.

Meanwhile, Fatmawati Paputungan (42) said that she saw the orca while she was waiting for her husband to come back from sailing.

“At first, I saw a large fin swimming in the waters outside of my house, it turned out to be paupausu,” Fatmawati said.

Deputy Secretary General of the Indonesian Association of Marine Scholars’ Central Executive Board (DPP ISKINDO), Verrianto Madjowa, explained that paupusu is what the locals of Gorontalo use to describe killer whales.

“From 31 species of cetaceans, 17 of them are orca whales,” said Verrianto, who is also conducting a research regarding the emergence of orcas and whale sharks in Gorontalo.

The initial sighting of the creature took place on February 8, 2017, in the waters of Tomini Bay by a number of divers.

On February 18, 2017, a video about an orca whale rescue in Gorontalo circulated throughout the social media sphere. In the 2 minute and 50 seconds video, a fisherman can be seen attempting to free an orca whale that was stuck in the vessel’s fishing net.

The rescue attempt was executed together with a number of fishermen onboard the vessel. The video ends with the orca successfully freed and could be seen leaving the location.

Source: Tempo.co