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Nature News
by Marlene Harris

April 2000   —   Dead Orca Considered Toxic Waste

A male orca whale washed ashore off the BC coast in March, and regional environmentalists are considering the carcass to be so contaminated with PCBs, it should be handled as toxic waste.

This orca, the first to wash ashore in the region since the 1970s, was well known to researchers, a member of one of the resident pods being studied on the southwest coast. The number of orcas in these pods appears to be dropping. Just five years ago there were 98 members of the three pods, but now there are only 82 whales. It appears that contamination may be playing a role in the decline. Government biologists, conducting studies on these whales, have determined that these animals have some of the highest levels of PCBs of any marine mammals in the world. Over the past few years, skin and blubber samples have been collected from almost 50 orcas in BC waters, including 6 from the southern pods of which one was the male that washed ashore. Tissue biopsy of this whale revealed PCB levels almost 90 times the level found in humans. It is believed that PCBs affect an animalís immune system, whereby making it more susceptible to infection. A complete autopsy was to be performed on the dead orca to determine the exact cause of death.

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