An adult Orca named Lulu recently died to some of the highest levels of PCB pollution that has ever been recorded. Researchers say that Lulu was one of the last surviving whales in British waters.
Lulu had belonged to one of the UK’s most recent pods, and according to her autopsy, it appeared that she had never given birth. Included in the pod are four males and four females, and for over 20 years there have been no calves. Unfortunately, the same chemicals that were found to be at astonishingly high levels in the water, can cause infertility. What’s worse, is that the team’s most recent find indicates that the pod could soon become extinct.
Dr. Andrew Brownlow, head of the Scottish Marine Animal Stranding Scheme and veterinary pathologist at Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC), told BBC News that Lulu had “shocking levels of PCBs”.
Continuing, he explained that, “They were 20 times higher than the safe level that we would expect for cetaceans to be able to manage.
“That puts her as one of the most contaminated animals on the planet in terms of PCB burden, and does raise serious questions for the long-term survivability of this group (of UK killer whales).”
When she was found, researches did an analysis on Lulu to measure her PCB concentrations. They were discovered to be 100 times higher than what the accepted toxicity is for marine mammals. If a whale lives in high PCB conditions, they are likely to have bad health, and many end up getting cancer.
PCBs were used for quite some time before being banned in the 1980s due to the toxic impact they had on human beings and marine life. However, PCBs do not break down in their environment. Still, in order for the levels to be as high as they are, many believe that PCBs could be being leaked into the ocean, somewhere. “Once PCBs get into the marine environment, they are difficult if not impossible to remove,” said Brownlow. “There are still many PCB stockpiles in Europe, and it is absolutely essential that these toxic reserves do not reach the marine environment.”