Pollution threat to Irish killer whales

A pod of killer whales which regularly swims in Irish waters is feared to be in danger of dying out due to pollution.

The killer whales — who have been given nicknames such as John Coe, Floppy Fin, and Nicola — are believed to be the only resident population of orcas around Ireland and Britain.

However, while they are the only known residents, marine biologist Simon Berrow of the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group revealed that Irish waters are a regular playground for passing families of orcas.

“People should know one of nature’s top predators is regularly seen in Ireland close to shore and offshore,” said Dr Berrow. “Everyone loves killer whales. Every year we have sightings. We have them on the east coast, the west coast, and probably mostly up around Donegal and Northern Ireland, but they are around the Irish Sea as well.

“They can be very close to shore and you can literally see them from shore.”

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A large male orca nicknamed John Coe — who is thought to have his dorsal fin bitten by a shark — is the most distinctive member of the dwindling pod.

“It is down to about seven animals now,” said Dr Berrow. “They have been followed for about 30 years. The big male is called John Coe and there is a big notch in his dorsal fin. Other ones are called Nicola and Floppy Fin.

“They move down through Irish waters and go back to Scotland. You see them off the north-west, the south-west, the Celtic Sea.

“The whales sighted every year are part of what is called the Scottish West Coast Community but we joke that they should be called the Irish West Coast Community because we sometimes see them more in Ireland than in Scotland.”

However, there is real concern among experts that contamination through pollution in their food has made the pod infertile.

“They have never had a calf. It’s thought that maybe they are infertile because of the high pollution levels,” said Dr Berrow.

“If you’re moving all around Europe and living a long time, you get a lot of contaminants from fish over time.”

An autopsy on an Irish killer whale which washed up on the Waterford coast earlier is still awaiting results but previous orcas found dead around Ireland’s coast have proved to have had high rates of pollution.

“They are regular visitors to Ireland and they are under pressure from contaminants all over Europe,” said Dr Berrow. “We did analysis of the killer whale washed up in Waterford earlier this year but we are awaiting the results.”

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