Killer whales face extinction threat from PCBs — study

Killer whales face the prospect of extinction in areas near industrialized parts of Europe where banned chemicals are leaching into the water.

A study by scientists in Spain, Ireland, Portugal, Slovenia and the United Kingdom of 1,000 killer whales, dolphins and porpoises found the samples contained concentrations of polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, among the highest anywhere in the world.

“It’s really looking bleak,” said Paul Jepson of the Zoological Society of London, the study’s lead author. “We think there is a very high extinction risk for killer whales as a species in industrialized regions of Europe.”

PCB levels are generally higher in Europe than in the oceans off the United States because Europe banned the chemicals in 1987 while U.S. regulators took action eight years earlier. The scientists urged tougher rules for the disposal of PCBs to prevent them from reaching the oceans.

The findings were published in the journal Scientific Reports (Alister Doyle, Reuters, Jan. 14). — SP