Threat to UK Killer Whales Prompts Call for Urgent Government Action

UK killer whale population, also known as the West Coast Community.

UK killer whale population, also known as the West Coast Community.

New research published today in the journal Science, led by Aarhus University in Denmark, predicts more than half of the world’s killer whale (orca) populations face collapse due to the effects of invisible toxic pollutants called PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls). A stable compound used in paints and sealants, PCBs were banned in the 1980’s yet these chemicals still persist in our oceans today. PCBs accumulate in the bodies of all marine animals but, as apex predators at the very top of the food chain, killer whales are particularly at risk.

Here at HWDT, we have seen first-hand the devastating effects of PCBs in our marine environment. The UK population of killer whales, known as the West Coast Community, are regularly seen on the west coast of Scotland. They are the only resident group of killer whales in UK waters, and one of the most highly PCB-contaminated populations in the world. Now, numbering only eight individuals, our team have observed no calves since monitoring began in the 1990’s.

In 2016 Lulu the killer whale, one of the most heavily PCB-polluted animals recorded on the planet, washed up on the shores of the Isle of Tiree in Scotland. These chemicals had caused irreparable damage to her health and fertility. We’ve seen first-hand the terrible impact these chemicals are having on killer whales and other marine mammals. With just eight adults left and no calves born into Lulu’s community in 25 years, we believe PCBs will have wiped out much of the UK killer whale population within a generation. This is a completely avoidable man-made environmental disaster which needs urgent Government action.
— Alison Lomax, Director

HWDT have joined with ten other UK wildlife charities in issuing a joint statement to the UK Government coordinated by Wildlife and Countryside LINK. The coalition are calling for urgent action to prevent further PCB toxic chemical waste entering our oceans and killing our mammals.