Last year Lulu, a 20 year old female orca from the UK’s only resident population, was found dead off the Isle of Tiree, after becoming entangled in fishing line. Tests on the deceased orca have found that she was contaminated with some of the highest levels of polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, ever recorded. The chemicals were banned in the 1970s, however they still remain in the environment.
Researchers now fear that the rest of the population could also be contaminated with similar levels of chemicals. PCBs are believed to impact the animal’s immune system and prevents them from reproducing. The resident population now only consists of 8 individuals and they have not had a calf in 25 years, seemingly dooming them to extinction. They spend most of their lives along the west coast of Scotland, being the top predators in the area they are vital for the ecosystem, but this is also part of the problem. Chemicals build up in the marine food chain, which means top predators such as orcas are particularly affected. Dolphins and porpoises are also susceptible.
Unfortunately there is not really a positive spin to put on this story, the only thing I will add is that this remains an issue for a number of species, both in the ocean and on land. It is vital, particularly as we head into an election, that we make the environment and our wildlife a priority. If you feel as though you want to do something to help, then ask your candidates about their policies on the environment, and demand that current environmental laws and regulations are only strengthened, not weakened, after Brexit.