Monday, December 12, 2005

ENV: Two Hits for Whales

Group: Orcas most polluted Arctic mammal

LONDON, England (Reuters) -- Killer whales are the most toxic mammals in the Arctic, riddled with household chemicals from around the world, the environmental pressure group WWF said on Monday.

Scientists found that the blubber of killer whales, or Orcas, taken from a fjord in Arctic Norway was full of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), pesticides and even a flame retardent often used on carpets.

The finding gives the whales the dubious distinction of ousting polar bears as most polluted Arctic mammal.

"Killer whales can be regarded as indicators of the health of our marine environment," said scientist Hans Wolkers. "The high levels of contaminants are very alarming and clearly show that the Arctic seas are not as clean as they should be."

PCBs are toxic and highly persistent. They used to be widely used in electrical goods and refrigerators, but have been banned in countries around the North Sea for several years.

They have even been found in the breast milk of Eskimos.

Brominated flame retardents have been linked with nerve disorders and reproductive malfunction.

The research was funded by the WWF -- now known only by its initials but previously called the World Wide Fund for Nature.

"This research re-confirms that the Arctic is now a chemical sink," said WWF campaign leader Colin Butfield. "Chemicals from products that we use in our homes every day are contaminating Arctic wildlife."

He called on European Union ministers meeting in Brussels on Tuesday to bring in tough laws to curb the chemical industry.

Officials: Snow a factor in mass whale, dolphin deaths

BREWSTER, Massachusetts (AP) -- More than two dozen whales and dolphins became stranded on the shores of Cape Cod Bay last week, and experts say the snowstorm may have contributed to their deaths.

In all, at least nine pilot whales and 24 dolphins died. Five of the whales and seven of the dolphins had to be euthanized, while the rest were found dead, according to Kristen Patchett of the Cape Cod Stranding Network, a group that works to free stranded animals.

Officials suspect that high winds and strong tidal fluctuations from Friday's storm caused the dolphins and whales to become trapped in shallow water. Illnesses also could have contributed to the strandings, the network said.

The group was notified of several animals in trouble Friday evening, but road closures and a snowstorm that dumped more than a foot of snow on parts of New England prevented members from reaching them.

Necropsies were to be performed on several of the dead animals.


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