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  WWF 12 Dec 05
Norwegian killer whales most toxic mammals in Arctic

Initial scientific results show Norwegian killer whales are the most toxic mammals in the Arctic, says WWF, the global conservation organization.

Previous research awarded this dubious honour to the polar bear, but a new study shows that killer whales have even higher levels of PCBs, pesticides and a brominated flame retardant.

The results are based on blubber samples taken from killer whales in Tysfjord, a fjord in arctic Norway. This is the first time the findings of the research, carried out by the Norwegian Polar Institute (NPI), and partly funded by the Norwegian Research Council, have been revealed.

"Killer whales can be regarded as indicators of the health of our marine environment," said Dr Hans Wolkers, a researcher with NPI. "The high levels of contaminants are very alarming. They clearly show that the arctic seas are not as clean as they should be, which, in particular, affects animals at the top of the food chain."

Killer whales are found throughout arctic Norway, including Svalbard and the Barents Sea, but congregate in the Tysfjord area to feed on spawning herring during the winter. This offers an excellent opportunity to sample them in an efficient way.

WWF funded Dr Wolkers to carry out new research from this November to further monitor the levels of dangerous contaminants in the killer whales, including another brominated flame retardant called deca-BDE, used in electronic goods and coatings for household products such as carpets. The findings of this research are expected next year.

The appearance of a potentially dangerous brominated flame retardant in killer whales is of particular concern, because--unlike PCBs and the most harmful pesticides--most hazardous brominated flame retardants are not currently banned. Brominated flame retardants can affect the animals' neurological function, behaviour and reproduction.

"This new killer whale research re-confirms that the Arctic is now a toxic sink," said Brettania Walker, a toxics officer with WWF's International Arctic Programme.

"Chemicals in everyday products are contaminating arctic wildlife. The European Council of Ministers, due to vote on REACH on December 13th, must agree to the replacement of all hazardous chemicals with safer alternatives whenever these are available."

"The toxic contamination of killer whales clearly shows the result of an unsustainable use of chemicals internationally," added Helen Bjørnøy, the Norwegian Minister of Environment.

"This is one of the greatest global environmental threats. The EU ministers now have the possibility to strengthen the chemicals legislation in Europe, and I urge them to use it. It is imperative that the REACH regulation becomes a tool to stop using the most dangerous chemicals."

PlanetArk 12 Dec 05
Killer Whales Most Toxic Mammal in Arctic – WWF

LONDON - 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 retardant 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 retardants 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.

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