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12 May 2017

Shocking News On The UK's Only Resident Orca Pod

Earlierthis year, a female orca wasfound washed ashore dead on the Hebridean island of Tiree off the west coast ofScotland. She was identified as Lulu, a member of the UK’s only resident orca pod – ‘the West Coast Community’.

Herdeath must have been painful as she was entangled in fishing rope whichprevented her from swimming, ultimately causing her to suffocate.

The podis dwindling and now numbers just eight individuals – four males and fourfemales – with no calves having been observed in the pod in over 20 years.

Members of the West Coast orca population. Photo: Janet BaxterWhilstthe UK gets seasonal orca visitors from Iceland and Norway to its northern shores,the West Coast Community pod is considered the UK’s only resident pod. As theirname suggests, they are most often seen off the west coast of Scotland but arealso known to roam a much bigger area to the west of the British Isles, fromthe southern Irish Sea and west along the entire length of Ireland’s Atlanticseaboard.

TheWest Coast Community are specialist feeders which prey on other marine mammalssuch as porpoises, dolphins, whales and seals.

Threatsto wild orca populations globally include live captures, habitat destruction,prey depletion, vessel disturbance and both noise and chemical pollution.

Lulu’sbody has given scientists an opportunity to assess what role pollutants areplaying in the demise of her pod. Research and conservation organisations alikehave been patiently waiting the results of her post mortem. Today’s announcementmakes for devastating reading and the chances of survival for the remainingmembers of the pod are slim. Extinction is now a very real threat for thisparticular iconic community of orcas.

"The levels of PCB contamination in Lulu were incredibly high,surprisingly so. They were 20 times higher than the safe level that we wouldexpect for cetaceans to be able to manage. That puts her as one of themost contaminated animals on the planet in terms of PCB burden, and does raiseserious questions for the long-term survivability of this group (of UK killerwhales)."
DrAndrew Brownlow, head of the Scottish Marine Animal Stranding Scheme.

WesternEuropean waters are a well known global hotspot for PCB (polychlorinated biphenyl) pollution.These toxic chemicals, banned in Europe in the 1980s, are extremely persistent(they were designed not to break down by heat or chemical attack) and continueto leak in to the oceans with a devastating effect on marine wildlife. Muchmore still needs to be done to ensure that PCBs currently in landfill sites arelocked-in and secured so they can’t leak out into streams, rivers andestuaries.

Highlevels of PCBs are known to harm breeding success and reduce the effectivenessof the immune system of whales and dolphins.

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