Killer whales washed ashore in Ireland absorbed toxic pollutants

Killer whales washed ashore in Ireland absorbed toxic pollutants

Flame retardants, pesticides and other pollutants are among the toxic ingredients found in four killer whales stranded on the Irish coastline, according to a new study.

Blubber samples analysed by scientists from Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology (GMIT) and the Marine Institute showed that the marine mammals concentrate persistent pollutants to “very high levels”.

The samples were taken from three killer whales stranded in Galway, Mayo and Waterford between 2010 and 2017 - one of which was pregnant with a near term foetus that was also sampled.

The study showed bio-accumulation of 16 polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), seven brominated flame retardants and 19 organochlorine pesticides, according to results published in the Marine Pollution Bulletin.

Concentrations of PCBs in one killer whale, stranded at Doohoma, Co Mayo, exceeded the suggested toxicity threshold of 17mg/kg, the authors state.

GMIT PhD student and senior author Moira Schlingermann noted that “although these concentration are high, these results are relatively low from a global perspective, particularly in comparison to the highly contaminated transient killer whales from coasts along the north-east Pacific Ocean”.

These contaminants are known as legacy pollutants as they were produced decades ago but still persist in our marine waters

“We are also interested in 'emerging' pollutants, new chemicals that have only recently been designed and released into our environment and for which we do not know their effects.

“Persistent pollutants continue to be of major concern for marine apex predators such as killer whales and it is vital that they are continually monitored and reported in order to add to the knowledge of pollutants across the entire range of this species.”

Dr Philip White of GMIT supervised much of the work with Dr Brendan McHugh from the Marine Institute and it was conducted at the institute laboratories in Oranmore, Co Galway.

Dr Simon Berrow, co-supervisor at GMIT and Irish Whale and Dolphin Group chief executive had warned of the “dire future” facing killer whales last year.

“The build-up of persistent pollutants and their effects on these animals reproduction are undoubtedly the biggest long term threat they and species of dolphin and porpoise face in our oceans,”Dr Berrow said.

“ We have to do everything we can to prevent these substances entering the marine environment and the food chain, because once in it, they will be almost impossible to remove,”he said.

This work was conducted under a GMIT RISE studentship, which was part-funded by the IWDG.

For access to the publication in the Marine Pollution Bulletin visit: www.sciencedirect.com

More on this topic

Donal Hickey: Hawthorn was a natural medicine for the heart Donal Hickey: Hawthorn was a natural medicine for the heart

Richard Collins: 200 years since the death of a botanical masterRichard Collins: 200 years since the death of a botanical master

Damien Enright: On the Canaries, it is the ravens who predominateDamien Enright: On the Canaries, it is the ravens who predominate

Snow bunting is beautiful, but a rare visitorSnow bunting is beautiful, but a rare visitor


More in this Section

Three men arrested following Belfast 'knife fight'Three men arrested following Belfast 'knife fight'

Pedestrian seriously injured after collision in Cork overnightPedestrian seriously injured after collision in Cork overnight

Cork University Hospital made over €2.5m from car parking charges in 2019Cork University Hospital made over €2.5m from car parking charges in 2019

Freezing temperatures to continue throughout the morning Freezing temperatures to continue throughout the morning


Lifestyle

The actor knows how to impress when it comes to high profile events.6 times Katie Holmes wowed on the red carpet

Glamour, fun and feathers all feature in this year’s hottest looks – but first and foremost, individual style rules.10 on-trend ways to transform your home in 2020

Abi Jackson shares the enduring appeal of Pooh Bear’s wisdom on Winnie-the-Pooh Day – author A.A. Milne’s birthday.Winnie-the-Pooh Day: The wellbeing lessons we can learn from Pooh Bear

We asked three experts for the low-down on shampooing frequency.How often should you really wash your hair?

More From The Irish Examiner