Menu
Allianz and Afloat - Supporting Irish Boating

Ireland's sailing, boating & maritime magazine

In association with ISA Logo Irish Sailing

Killer Whales Absorbing Cocktail of Heavy Pollutants - New Study

21st December 2019
A dead Killer Whale on the Waterford shoreline A dead Killer Whale on the Waterford shoreline Photo: Claire Scott

Flame retardants, pesticides and other pollutants are among the toxic ingredients found in four killer whales stranded on the Irish coastline, according to a new study writes Lorna Siggins

Blubber samples analysed by scientists from Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology (GMIT) and the Marine Institute showed that the marine mammals concentrate persistent pollutants to “very high levels”.

The samples were taken from three killer whales stranded in Galway, Mayo and Waterford between 2010 and 2017 - one of which was pregnant with a near term foetus that was also sampled.

The study showed bio-accumulation of 16 polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), seven brominated flame retardants and 19 organochlorine pesticides, according to results published in the Marine Pollution Bulletin.

Collecting blubber sample from killer whale for contaminant analysisCollecting blubber sample from killer whale for contaminant analysis

Concentrations of PCBs in one killer whale, stranded at Doohoma, Co Mayo, exceeded the suggested toxicity threshold of 17mg/kg, the authors state.

GMIT PhD student and senior author Moira Schlingermann noted that “although these concentrations are high, these results are relatively low from a global perspective, particularly in comparison to the highly contaminated transient killer whales from coasts along the north-east Pacific Ocean”.

“These contaminants are known as legacy pollutants as they were produced decades ago but still persist in our marine waters,” she said.

“ We are also interested in “emerging” pollutants, new chemicals that have only recently been designed and released into our environment and for which we do not know their effects,”she said.

“Persistent pollutants continue to be of major concern for marine apex predators such as killer whales and it is vital that they are continually monitored and reported in order to add to the knowledge of pollutants across the entire range of this species,” she said.

Dr Philip White of GMIT supervised much of the work with Dr Brendan McHugh from the Marine Institute and it was conducted at the institute laboratories in Oranmore, Co Galway.

“We have to do everything we can to prevent these substances from entering the marine environment"

Dr Simon Berrow, co-supervisor at GMIT and Irish Whale and Dolphin Group chief executive had warned of the “dire future” facing killer whales last year.

“The build-up of persistent pollutants and their effects on these animals reproduction are undoubtedly the biggest long term threat they and species of dolphin and porpoise face in our oceans,” Dr Berrow said.

“We have to do everything we can to prevent these substances from entering the marine environment and the food chain, because once in it, they will be almost impossible to remove,” he said.

This work was conducted under a GMIT RISE studentship, which was part-funded by the IWDG.

For access to the publication in the Marine Pollution Bulletin visit:

Published in Marine Wildlife
Lorna Siggins

About The Author

Lorna Siggins

Email The Author

Lorna Siggins is a print and radio reporter, and a former Irish Times western correspondent. She is the author of Everest Callling (1994) on the first Irish Everest expedition; Mayday! Mayday! (2004) on Irish helicopter search and rescue; and Once Upon a Time in the West: the Corrib gas controversy (2010).

We've got a favour to ask

More people are reading Afloat.ie than ever thanks to the power of the internet but we're in stormy seas because advertising revenues across the media are falling fast. Unlike many news sites, we haven’t put up a paywall because we want to keep our marine journalism open.

Afloat.ie is Ireland's only full–time marine journalism team and it takes time, money and hard work to produce our content.

So you can see why we need to ask for your help.

If everyone chipped in, we can enhance our coverage and our future would be more secure. You can help us through a small donation. Thank you.

Direct Donation to Afloat button

Marine Wildlife Around Ireland One of the greatest memories of any day spent boating around the Irish coast is an encounter with marine wildlife.  It's a thrill for young and old to witness seabirds, seals, dolphins and whales right there in their own habitat. As boaters fortunate enough to have experienced it will testify even spotting a distant dorsal fin can be the highlight of any day afloat.  Was that a porpoise? Was it a whale? No matter how brief the glimpse it's a privilege to share the seas with Irish marine wildlife.

Thanks to the location of our beautiful little island, perched in the North Atlantic Ocean there appears to be no shortage of marine life to observe.

From whales to dolphins, seals, sharks and other ocean animals this page documents the most interesting accounts of marine wildlife around our shores. We're keen to receive your observations, your photos, links and youtube clips.

Boaters have a unique perspective and all those who go afloat, from inshore kayaking to offshore yacht racing that what they encounter can be of real value to specialist organisations such as the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) who compile a list of sightings and strandings. The IWDG knowledge base has increased over the past 21 years thanks in part at least to the observations of sailors, anglers, kayakers and boaters.

Thanks to the IWDG work we now know we share the seas with dozens of species who also call Ireland home. Here's the current list: Atlantic white-sided dolphin, beluga whale, blue whale, bottlenose dolphin, common dolphin, Cuvier's beaked whale, false killer whale, fin whale, Gervais' beaked whale, harbour porpoise, humpback whale, killer whale, minke whale, northern bottlenose whale, northern right whale, pilot whale, pygmy sperm whale, Risso's dolphin, sei whale, Sowerby's beaked whale, sperm whale, striped dolphin, True's beaked whale and white-beaked dolphin.

But as impressive as the species list is the IWDG believe there are still gaps in our knowledge. Next time you are out on the ocean waves keep a sharp look out!

Featured Sailing School

INSS sidebutton

Featured Clubs

dbsc mainbutton
Howth Yacht Club
Kinsale Yacht Club
National Yacht Club
Royal Cork Yacht Club
Royal Irish Yacht club
Royal Saint George Yacht Club

Featured Brokers

leinster sidebutton

Featured Webcams

Featured Car Brands

subaru sidebutton

Featured Associations

ISA sidebutton dob
ICRA
isora sidebutton

Featured Events 2021

vdlr21 sidebutton

Featured Sailmakers

northsails sidebutton
uksails sidebutton

quantum sidebutton

Featured Chandleries

CHMarine Afloat logo
osm sidebutton
https://afloat.ie/resources/marine-industry-news/viking-marine

Featured Marinas

dlmarina sidebutton

Featured Blogs

W M Nixon - Sailing on Saturday
podcast sidebutton
mansfield sidebutton
BSB sidebutton
sellingboat sidebutton

Please show your support for Afloat by donating