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Killer whale wipe out warning prompts calls for urgent Government action

New research from international experts published today in Science magazine shows half of the world’s Orca populations are likely to be wiped out by an invisible chemical pollutant in our oceans

27 September 2018

Media Contact: Emma Adler, Wildlife and Countryside Link
Telephone: 07881 785634
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Killer whale wipe out warning prompts calls for urgent Government action

New research[1] from international experts published today in Science magazine shows half of the world’s Orca populations are likely to be wiped out by an invisible chemical pollutant in our oceans. Thirteen UK wildlife charities[2] are calling for action from the UK Government in the Environment Act and at the Stockholm Convention in May 2019 to help prevent further polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) toxic chemical waste entering our oceans and killing our mammals.

Jennifer Lonsdale, Chair of Wildlife and Countryside Link’s Whales Group said: ‘This is a global red alert on the state of our oceans. Half of the world’s killer whales may be wiped out because companies created toxic products and did not dispose of them safely. With more than 80% of the world’s stocks of PCBs still in existence the worst of this pollution crisis could be yet to come. Legally-binding targets must be agreed for every country to safely destroy these materials. If the UK Government wants its Environment Act to be world-leading, it must set ambitious targets on PCB disposal and protect against further chemical pollution of our waters.’

Willie Mackenzie, Oceans Campaigner at Greenpeace UK, said: ‘‘Thirty years after they were banned, it’s staggering that polluting PCBs are not only still getting into our ocean, but that they are pushing our killer whales towards extinction. The UK Government has to take a global lead to make sure this situation doesn’t get any worse: that means a legally binding measures on the disposal of PCBs in the forthcoming UK Environment Act, and urging other countries to take similar measures.’

Lucy Babey, Head of Science & Conservation and Deputy Director at ORCA, said: ‘These new figures show the devastation invisible chemical pollution is having on Orcas. At the top of the food chain PCBs build up in their organs slashing the whales’ ability to survive and reproduce. With a shocking 50% of Orcas set to be wiped out by PCBS alone, our abysmal failures to control chemical pollution ending up in our oceans has caused a killer whale catastrophe on an epic scale. It is essential that requirements to dispose safely of PCBs under the Stockholm Convention are made legally-binding at the next meeting in May 2019 to help stop this scandal.’

Further comments from Humane Society International, IFAW, Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT), Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC) CHEM Trust, and Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust can be found here.

PCBs are chemicals which were commonly found in sealants, paint and electrical equipment for decades until they were largely banned in the 1980s, with a full global-ban in 2004. Despite being banned the most accurate estimates suggest 80% of PCB-containing materials - around 14 million tonnes - have still not been safely disposed of.

Killer whales and other predators are particularly susceptible to PCB pollution as the amounts build up higher in the food chain. These chemicals affect their internal organs, as well as causing cancers. PCBs cause sterility and are decimating populations of whales, dolphins and other marine mammals, with some affected whale groups set to die out within a generation. It is also demonstrated to be having an impact on fertility in fish and whale reliant Inuit human populations.

The Stockholm Convention put in place a global framework on the use of PCBs, which came into force in 2004. However, the controls it outlined lacked the teeth to prevent further PCB pollution.

There is no clear compliance mechanism in place to ensure all PCB stocks are destroyed by member states by the target date of 2028. Combined with ineffective storage and disposal, this lack of action is resulting in existing stocks slowly and continuously leaking into water sources.

A coalition of wildlife charities, co-ordinated by Wildlife and Countryside Link[3], are therefore today calling for all countries attending the Stockholm convention in May 2019 to commit to legally binding targets and establishing an operational compliance and enforcement mechanism. Details on what this should include are available in this briefing. The NGOs are urging the UK Government to lead the way by including binding targets on PCBs in the upcoming Environment Act.


Notes to editors:

1. Journalists registered with Science can access the official paper directly at If you cannot access this webpage please contact the Science press package team at If you have difficulty accessing the paper please contact 07881785634

Please also see ZSL Zoological Society of London’s press release, with ZSL scientists having made a large contribution to the paper.

2. The organisations supporting these calls include: CHEM Trust, Greenpeace UK, Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust, Humane Society International, IFAW, The Mammal Society, MarineLIFE, ORCA, Whale and Dolphin Conservation, Wildfowl & Wetland Trust (WWT), Wildlife and Countryside Link and Zoological Society of London (ZSL).

3. Wildlife and Countryside Link is the largest environment and wildlife coalition in England, bringing together 48 organisations to use their strong joint voice for the protection of nature.

Our members campaign to conserve, enhance and access our landscapes, animals, plants, habitats, rivers and seas. Together we have the support of over eight million people in the UK and directly protect over 750,000 hectares of land and 800 miles of coastline.

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