THE BLOG
01/29/2016 05:56 pm ET Updated Jan 29, 2017

UK Killer Whales Can't Be Saved

While there have been ongoing discussions for several years now about whether to reintroduce wolves and lynxes into Scotland, little has been done to save currently threatened populations and this is most notably shown by the march to extinction that Scotland's orcas are embarked upon.

Bringing back a wiped out creature to a territory that has long since forgotten it was ever there is always going to generate headlines, particularly with the scaremongering in the media that we're all suddenly going to be on the menu for one of these wild animals, yet protecting the creatures we actually still have has become an irksome task for our politicians at best. Policies such as the badger cull and the treatment of returned beavers have shown the contempt for which nature is regarded but this attitude has led to us watching one of our greatest creatures wander ever closer to extinction.

Finally, a major scientific study has been able to lay claim to what was long suspected: that PCB levels in European waters are threatening our marine life. Killer whales (also known as orcas) and other dolphins can be found across Europe but we are also one of the few countries that has its own native pod of killer whales. These majestic creatures have long fascinated us; as can be shown by our insistence on placing them in captivity in futile and desperate attempts to make them perform since the 1970s. Yet we have our own pod that is free and we would still rather hop on a plane to Florida and watch them being brutalised in the name of entertainment.

PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) have been found to have links to cancer and to suppress reproduction. They were banned in the UK, but only in 1981, and it took the EU a further six years to ban them. The new legislation however, only went so far when methods to dispose of PCBs were often shoddy and so they have continued to leak slowly into our waters. The chemicals are also particularly durable and difficult to break down and this is a major reason why they have been found to still be present in our seas and oceans.

The impact on reproduction seems to also offer an explanation as to why the orcas off the coast of Scotland have not been witnessed to have produced a calf in over twenty years. There are now thought to only be four remaining female killer whales in this pod (as one named Lulu died at the beginning of the year) and the lack of offspring for at least two decades indicates this pod is dying before our eyes.
Killer whales are unlike most other creatures that inhabit the planet today because each pod is so distinctive. Each have their own aesthetic characteristics as well as differing diets and hunting methods. They effectively have their own cultures and are incredibly intelligent. If one pod dies then it is likely to be the last pod of its kind given this amazing diversity between each different whale social group (and they really are social groups).

An unhealthy sea does not bode well for the future of the UK. Vast sources of our food comes from the water and biodiversity is a sign of a healthy planet. The fact that our whales and dolphins are slowly dying is yet another suggestion of how we are failing to protect the planet and that will have devastating consequences for us all.

Furthermore, it is strange how there is little government appetite to try to tackle this issue when rare wildlife has helped many countries (such as Uganda with its silver back gorillas) bring in extra income from tourism.

The study is a damning report of European waters but with a disinterested political elite the situation is unlikely to make the rapid improvements which are required if we are to stop the extinction of our killer whales.