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Humpback whale playing with kelp

Why do humpback whales wear seaweed wigs?

Alison Wood Ali is WDC's education projects coordinator. She is the editor of Splash! and KIDZONE,...
Japanese whaling ship

WDC in Japan – Part 5: The meaning of whaling

Katrin Matthes Katrin is WDC's communications and campaigns officer for policy & communication in Germany...
Risso's dolphins off the Isle of Lewis, Scotland

Unravelling the mysteries of Risso’s dolphins – WDC in action

Nicola Hodgins Nicola is WDC's cetacean science coordinator. She leads our long-term Risso's dolphin research...
Save the whale save the world on a tv in a meeting room.

Saving whales in boardrooms and on boats

Abbie Cheesman Abbie is WDC's head of strategic partnerships. She works with leading businesses to...
Outcomes of COP28

Outcomes for whales and dolphins from COP28

Ed Goodall Ed is WDC's head of intergovernmental engagement. He meets with world leaders to...
Taiji's cove with boats rounding up dolphins to be slaughtered or sold to aquraiums

WDC in Japan – Part 4: A journey to Taiji’s killing cove

Katrin Matthes Katrin is WDC's communications and campaigns officer for policy & communication in Germany...
Blue whale at surface

Creating a safe haven for whales and dolphins in the Southern Ocean

Emma Eastcott Emma is WDC's head of safe seas. She helps ensure whales and dolphins...
We're at COP28 to Save the Whale, Save the World.

We’re at COP28 to save the whale, save the world

Ed Goodall Ed is WDC's head of intergovernmental engagement. He meets with world leaders to...
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Port River dolphins

New report reveals 100,000 dolphins and small whales hunted every year

When you hear the words ‘dolphin hunts’ it’s likely that you think of Japan or...

Minke whale hunts stop in Iceland

Iceland’s commercial hunt of minke whales has ended for this year. The common minke whale is the...

Australian Government to block Japanese whaling proposal

Japanese Government officials have reportedly confirmed that they will propose the resumption of commercial whaling...

Did Icelandic whalers really kill a blue whale?

*Warning - this blog contains an image that you may find upsetting* They say a...

Icelandic whalers breach international law and kill iconic, protected whale by mistake

Icelandic whalers out hunting fin whales for the first time in three years appear to...

Pregnant whales once again a target for Japanese whalers

Figures from Japan's whaling expedition to Antarctica during the 2017/18 austral summer have revealed that...

Doubts remain after Icelandic Marine Institute claims slaughtered whale was a hybrid not a blue

Experts remain sceptical of initial test results issued by the Icelandic Marine Institute, which indicate...

Japan set to resume commercial whaling

Reports from Japan suggest that the government they will formally propose plans to resume commercial...

End the whale hunts! Icelandic fin whaler isolated as public mood shifts

Here’s a sight I hoped never again to witness. A boat being scrubbed and repainted...

Norway increases whaling quota despite declining demand

Norway's government has announced an increase in the number of minke whales that can be...

Norway's whaling season begins

April 1st saw the start of the whaling season in Norway. Despite a widely-accepted international moratorium...

SOS alert for whales off Norway!

I have to admit to bitter disappointment when I arrived in Tromsø, northern Norway, a...

Shocking news on the UK's only resident pod of orcas

In the first few days of 2016 came the depressing news that a female orca had been found washed ashore dead on the Hebridean island of Tiree off the west coast of Scotland. She was identified as Lulu, a member of the dwindling West Coast Community orca pod.

Her death must have been excruciating as she was entangled in fishing rope which prevented her from swimming, ultimately causing her to suffocate.

The West Coast Community now numbers just eight individuals – four males and four females – with no calves having been observed in the pod in over 20 years.

Whilst the UK gets seasonal orca visitors from Iceland and Norway to its northern shores, the West Coast Community are considered the UK’s only resident pod. As their name suggests, they are most often seen off the west coast of Scotland but are also known to roam a much bigger area to the west of the British Isles, from the southern Irish Sea and west along the entire length of Ireland’s Atlantic seaboard.

Scientists currently identify two forms or ‘ecotypes’ of orcas in the North Atlantic: Type 1 are mainly fish eaters while Type 2  – which includes the West Coast Community – are specialist feeders which prey exclusively on other marine mammals such as porpoises, dolphins, whales and seals.

This resident population also seems to have different physical characteristics from orcas elsewhere in the North Atlantic, including larger overall size and different dentition (makeup of their teeth). This indicates separate ancestry and there is evidence that the group’s closest relatives are found thousands of kilometres away in the Antarctic.

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

Researchers have known for some time that western European waters are a 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 continue to leak in to the oceans with a devastating effect on marine wildlife. High levels of PCBs are important chemical markers and are known to harm breeding success and suppress the immune system of whales and dolphins.

The levels of PCBs in some species of Europe’s whales and dolphins are as high in females as they are in males. This is particularly alarming as females are usually able to offload toxins to their calves through their milk which is high in fat.

The ocean is downstream from everything and much more still needs to be done to ensure that PCBs currently in landfill sites are locked-in and secured so they can’t leak out into streams, rivers and estuaries.

Lulu’s body gave scientists a valuable opportunity to assess what role pollutants are playing in the demise of her pod. Research and conservation organisations alike have been patiently waiting (and dreading!) the results of her post mortem. Today’s announcement makes for devastating reading and the chances of survival for the remaining members of the pod are slim. Extinction is now a very real threat for this particular 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 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).”

Dr Andrew Brownlow, head of the Scottish Marine Animal Stranding Scheme.

Rob Lott, WDC’s Policy Manager says: “This report is a wake up call and we must ask ourselves how much we value our oceans and the majestic creatures that call it home. We have a duty to future generations to now fully implement meaningful conservation measures to make sure the tragic story of Lulu and her family is a turning point in our attitude and understanding towards the marine environment and not seen as an inevitable historical footnote.”

The UK has a well-established strandings network–any stranding should be reported HERE

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