Quantcast

'Shocking' Levels of PCBs Found in Beloved Orca

Popular

The tragic story of Lulu, a beloved orca found dead and entangled in fishing gear last year, has taken a turn for the worse.


Experts with the Scottish Marine Animal Stranding Scheme found the killer whale had "shocking levels of PCBs," or polychlorinated biphenyls, a banned but highly pervasive toxic chemical.

"The levels of PCB contamination in Lulu were incredibly high, surprisingly so," Dr. Andrew Brownlow, head of the Scottish Marine Animal Stranding Scheme and veterinary pathologist at Scotland's Rural College, told BBC News. "They were 20 times higher than the safe level that we would expect for cetaceans to be able to manage."

"The threshold where we think that there is some form of physiological effect caused by PCBs is around 20-40mg/kg stored within the tissues," Brownlow said.

But Lulu had a level of PCBs of 957mg/kg, putting her as "one of the most contaminated animals on the planet in terms of PCB burden," Brownlow said.

Lulu was estimated to be at least 20 years old when she died, which is why she might have built up such high PCB levels.

As one of the last remaining killer whales in the UK, Lulu's death has raised fears of extinction for the population. There may be only eight remaining individuals in the killer whale's pod.

The long-term survivability of this group of UK killer whales is now being questioned, as the remaining animals might be similarly contaminated.

Lulu was found dead on Jan. 3, 2016 on the Scottish island of Tiree with deep lesions on her body. After a necropsy was performed, experts concluded that Lulu had been "chronically entangled" in abandoned fishing gear for several days and likely drowned from entanglement.

But it was suggested that PCBs could have contributed to her demise since the chemicals are known to affect the brain.

"It is potentially plausible that there was some effect of the PCBs that was in some way debilitating her so she wasn't strong enough or even aware enough to deal with this entanglement (in fishing line)," Brownlow said. "We very rarely see entanglement in killer whales—actually this is one of the first cases we have documented."

The chemicals can also cause infertility and could explain why Lulu never reproduced.

"That's certainly what we found in the case of Lulu," Brownlow explained. "Having examined her ovaries, there was no evidence that she had ever been reproductively active or had ever had a calf."

Scientists have not observed any calves born the UK's waters in 25 years.

"Lulu's apparent infertility is an ominous finding—with no new animals being born, it is now looking increasingly likely that this small group will eventually go extinct," Brownlow told The Guardian.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

A new study shows that half of all Arctic warming and corresponding sea-loss during the late 20th century was caused by ozone-depleting substances. Here, icebergs discharged from Greenland's Jakobshavn Glacier. Kevin Krajick / Earth Institute / EurekAlert!

The world awakened to the hole in the ozone layer in 1985, which scientists attributed it to ozone depleting substances. Two years later, in Montreal, the world agreed to ban the halogen compounds causing the massive hole over Antarctica. Research now shows that those chemicals didn't just cut a hole in the ozone layer, they also warmed up the Arctic.

Read More
Diane Wilson holds up a bag full of nurdles she collected from one of Formosa's outfall areas on Jan. 15. Julie Dermansky / DeSmogBlog

By Julie Dermansky

On the afternoon of Jan. 15, activist Diane Wilson kicked off a San Antonio Estuary Waterkeeper meeting on the side of the road across from a Formosa plastics manufacturing plant in Point Comfort, Texas.

After Wilson and the waterkeeper successfully sued Formosa, the company agreed to no longer release even one of the tiny plastic pellets known as nurdles into the region's waterways. The group of volunteers had assembled that day to check whether the plant was still discharging these raw materials of plastics manufacturing.

Read More
Sponsored

By Simon Coghlan and Kobi Leins

A remarkable combination of artificial intelligence (AI) and biology has produced the world's first "living robots."

Read More
Malaysian Environment Minister Yeo Bee Yin (front 2nd L) and officials inspect a container containing plastic waste shipment on Jan. 20, 2020 before sending back to the countries of origin. AFP via Getty Images

The Southeast Asian country Malaysia has sent 150 shipping containers packed with plastic waste back to 13 wealthy countries, putting the world on notice that it will not be the world's garbage dump, as CNN reported. The countries receiving their trash back include the United States, the United Kingdom, France and Canada.

Read More
Trump leaves after delivering a speech at the Congress Centre during the World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos on Jan. 21, 2020. JIM WATSON / AFP via Getty Images

U.S. President Donald Trump dismissed the concerns of environmental activists as "pessimism" in a speech to political and business leaders at the start of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos on Tuesday.

Read More