European killer whales and bottlenose and striped dolphins suffer from the highest levels of now-banned industrial chemicals ever recorded, according to a study released Thursday.
The contamination has harmed their ability to successfully bear young, scientists report. As a result, some dolphin and European resident whale populations have vanished, and others are likely to go extinct—including a pod of killer whales off the coast of the United Kingdom that has dwindled to just eight individuals and has not produced a calf since 1990.
In the study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, researchers compiled data on concentrations of polychlorinated biphenyls in tissue samples from 1,081 marine mammals, including killer whales, harbor porpoises, and striped and bottlenose dolphins. The samples came from animals in the U.K., Ireland, Spain, France, and elsewhere.
They found that even though PCBs have been banned in the U.K. and the European Union since the 1980s, striped and bottlenose dolphins and killer whales carried amounts of the chemicals in their bodies that far surpassed the levels known to cause health problems such as reproductive failure.
While the level of PCBs in marine mammals in the United States has continued to decline since the chemicals were banned, contamination remains level among those in the waters of industrialized Europe. Scientists are not sure why, Paul Jepson of the Zoological Society of London, the study’s lead author, said during a meeting with reporters.
“The answer to that is neither easy nor straightforward,” he said. “But mitigation measures should really involve dealing with historic and current industrial uses in old equipment—transformers and things, in electrical equipment—PCBs leaking out of landfill into rivers, PCBs in marine sediments, which are often dredged to keep shipping lanes open, which makes them more bioavailable to get into the marine food chains.”
PCBs are manufactured chemicals that were widely used in inks, flame retardants, electrical equipment, and other products and machinery during much of the 20th century. Health and environmental concerns led the United States, the U.K., and the European Union to phase out PCBs during the 1980s, but they remain persistent in the environment.
“One of the things that is particular about them is they dissolve in fat tissue,” Jepson said. “Animals will ingest them in their diets, and then the PCBs will pass through the gut into the bloodstream and then eventually settle out in the fat tissue, in the blubber.”
As a result, predators high on the food chain, such as marine mammals, are at risk of consuming concentrated amounts of PCBs with their prey and then storing them in their own bodies, a process called bioaccumulation.
When female dolphins and whales nurse their offspring, they pass much of the contamination along with the fat in their milk, Jepson said, “at a time when the new calf is very vulnerable.”
The U.K.’s killer whales, which are known to consume a lot of seals, showed PCB levels in excess of 250 milligrams per kilo of fat, Jepson said, while killer whales off the Icelandic and Norwegian coasts, which consume mostly herring, showed only 25 milligrams per kilo.
Some marine mammal populations off the coasts of Spain, Portugal, and France are also failing to reproduce and are at risk of extinction because of PCB contamination, he said, adding that about 1.1 million tons of PCB-contaminated materials in the European Union still await proper disposal.
“Despite regulations and mitigation measures to reduce PCB pollution,” Jepson said, “the levels are so high they will have toxic effects.”
Save Majestic Orca Whales From Extinction
Goal: Save the southern resident orca whales from the brink of extinction.
With the recent deaths of a mother orca and her calf, the population of orca whales is now a horrifyingly scant 80 in total in their southern resident population off the coast of the Pacific Northwest United States. This is the lowest number this already vulnerable population has faced in two decades, and a frighteningly low number overall. Many species on the critical list have numbers in the hundreds or low thousands, but this community of orcas has dropped to below even 100 total.
For years, whales have been the victims of many environmental crimes such as water pollution, being hunted for their blubber, forced into captivity by aquariums and starving due to recent food shortages. Despite many efforts to protect these creatures, things are only getting worse for them. Their numbers are frighteningly low and will only keep dropping until there are no orcas left on this planet.
Orca whales are beautiful, intelligent creatures who deserve better than this. We cannot let their numbers get any lower or for any more harm to come to them. We must strengthen our efforts to protect this species, to stop pollution, hunting, captivity and other dangers they face. As an essential part of this effort, we must remove the four lower Snake River Dams that are killing salmon which orcas depend on for food. Sign this petition to help preserve what is left of these innocent creatures.
Rescue Corky, the Longest-Held Captive Orca in History
Goal: Retire Corky, an orca who has been held in captivity for over four decades, to an accredited sanctuary.
Corky the orca has been imprisoned within the walls of SeaWorld for over 47 years. She was taken from the wild back in 1969 and is the longest-held captive whale in history. It is time for Corky to be moved to an accredited sanctuary where she can live a more natural life.
Not only has Corky been trapped in a concrete tank for 47 years, but she has also been forcibly impregnated six times. The longest surviving baby was only alive for 47 days. Corky has known nothing but misery at the hands of SeaWorld. Captive life causes many mental and physical problems in orcas due to the lack of stimuli. In the wild, orcas can swim up to 100 miles a day, but all Corky can do is swim in an endless circle.
Sign this petition to demand SeaWorld retire Corky to an accredited sanctuary. Time is running out, and she should not spend another minute imprisoned in her tank.
Demand Travel Agency Cut Ties with SeaWorld
Goal: Stop Sunwing Travel Group from selling SeaWorld tickets and tours.
Sunwing Travel Group is the largest tour operator in all of North America, however the company continues to sell SeaWorld tickets and tours despite knowing the horrors that happen there daily.
At SeaWorld, marine mammals are trapped in concrete tanks where they are unable to swim freely like they can in the ocean. In the wild, orcas can travel up to 100 miles a day, while dolphins can travel up to 60. Instead, at SeaWorld, they can only swim in circles around their barren enclosure. These animals are incredibly intelligent and social. This often leads to many physical and mental problems among the animals.
Sign this petition to demand Sunwing Travel Group cut ties with this cruel company.
Don’t let orcas die of starvation!
Without the salmon that make up a crucial part of their diet, orcas are dying of starvation and exhaustion.
It's time to bring down four costly, outdated dams on the Snake River and bring back the salmon!
The scene in Puget Sound last month was tragic: two orcas struggling to lift a 10-month-old calf to the surface so he could breathe. Just a few days earlier, scientists reported the death of the calf’s mother, J28, an iconic member of the Puget Sound orca population. Researchers had spotted both mother and son in previous weeks looking weak and emaciated. Now, starving, exhausted and without his mother to nurse him, the young whale would soon succumb.
It didn’t have to happen. The orcas—also known as southern resident killer whales—feed for a crucial part of the year on salmon that spawn in the Pacific Northwest’s ColumbiaSnake River system, the most heavily dammed river system on Earth.
In the decades since the dams were completed, wild salmon populations in the region have plummeted by more than 95 percent. With such a dramatic reduction in their food source, the orcas have suffered, too. Today, only 80 southern resident killer whales remain.
But now there’s a chance to make things right. The future of four costly dams on the lower Snake River is currently under consideration, and we need you to speak up for the salmon and the orcas!
The government agencies that run the dams are now taking public comment on dam operations, and they need to hear from you so the orcas and the salmon have a chance at survival. Send in your comment today.
Scientists say the single best thing we can do to save wild salmon is to take out the four dams on the lower Snake River: Ice Harbor, Little Goose, Lower Monumental and Lower Granite. Removing these dams would open up hundreds of miles of free-flowing waterways, restoring safe passage to and from the imperiled wild salmon’s pristine, natal cold-water streams in central Idaho and beyond.
For nearly 20 years, in spite of multiple court rulings that have found their actions illegal, the federal agencies that own and operate these dams have refused to take an unbiased look at removing these salmon-killing dams. Instead they have wasted $15 billion in taxpayer money on ineffective recovery efforts that have failed to recover even one endangered species of salmon. Last May, a federal court judge directly ordered the agencies to develop a plan for dam operations that will bring back our wild salmon—and specifically directed them to consider dam removal.
The upcoming change in leadership in the White House does not change the picture. The real question is how long either political party will put up with wasting federal tax dollars on the increasingly irrelevant lower Snake River dams. With the federal budget constantly growing tighter, both parties have better uses for those tax dollars.
The time is now to remove these outdated, low-value dams on the lower Snake river. If we free the Snake River, we can save the salmon and help the endangered orcas of the Puget Sound. Join the fight for the greatest river restoration in history.
Tell These Football Teams to Punt SeaWorld From Their Schedules!
The Minnesota Golden Gophers, the Brigham Young University (BYU) Cougars, and the Wyoming Cowboys are all playing in bowl games in San Diego this month, and they're considering making a visit to SeaWorld while they're there—despite hearing from PETA that the abusement park confines intelligent, socially complex orcas to barren concrete tanks, where they often die decades short of their natural life expectancy.
In the wild, orcas travel up to 100 miles every day. At SeaWorld, they're confined to tiny tanks, grouped incompatibly, and deprived of everything that's natural and important to them. Because of the intense stress and frustration of captivity, they can become neurotic, self-destructive, and physically ill. At least 38 orcas have died on the company's watch from causes such as severe trauma, intestinal gangrene, and chronic cardiovascular failure. Not one has come close to the maximum life span for an orca in nature.
Please tell the Minnesota Golden Gophers, the BYU Cougars, and the Wyoming Cowboys that supporting SeaWorld is a major fumble and that they should punt the company from their schedules until it sends all the animals it holds captive to seaside sanctuaries.
Freeing Orcas and Dolphins From Captivity
We're leading the way to ensure that SeaWorld and other captive facilities end the forced breeding and circus shows by orcas and dolphins. It's time that these amazing animals are allowed to retire to seaside sanctuaries. We've taken on the multi-billion dollar SeaWorld corporation with a pioneering legal challenge, and we played a key role in the California Coastal Commission's ban on orca breeding.
Saving Dolphins and WhalesWe helped expose a dangerous scheme to capture orcas and dolphins by the notorious Ryazanowska, currently in a Namibian port. If this isn't stopped, hundreds of whales and dolphins will be ripped from their families in the wild for proposed sale to China. We're pressing the Namibian government to reject all permits for this plan immediately.
We spearheaded an investigation revealing two secret and illegal wild dolphin captures in the Solomon Islands to obtain dolphins for sale to foreign theme parks. We provided our findings to the Solomon Islands government which took immediate action to seize and release all 30 of the captured dolphins back to the wild.
Our work touches many corners of the globe, and we can't do it without your help.
We know what needs to be done. With your donation - we can do it. I promise you we will make your donation go a long way.
On behalf of all dolphins swimming in their natural ocean homes and those that are desperate for our help, thank you again for your critical support.
With a monthly sustaining donation we'll send you a copy of Susan Casey's bestseller "Voices in the Ocean", a beautiful Save Japan Dolphin Campaign t-shirt, or a "Blackfish" movie DVD (all with free shipping).