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Orcas risk extinction in European waters

Killer whales are at risk of extinction off industrialised regions of Europe because of poisonous chemicals banned decades ago which are still leaching into the seas, scientists have said.

A study took samples from 1,000 orcas, dolphins and porpoises, including communities in the waters around Gibraltar and the Strait of Gibraltar, and found high concentrations of PCBs, chemicals used in paints, electrical equipment and construction until the 1980s.

Experts found killer whales, bottlenose dolphins and striped dolphins had the highest concentrations of PCB in their blubber.

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High exposure to the chemical is known to weaken their immune systems and markedly reduce breeding success by causing abortions or high mortality in newborn calves, researchers said.

The study, published in the Scientific Reports journal, identified the western Mediterranean Sea and south-west Iberian Peninsula as having the highest concentrations of PCB in Europe.

"It's really looking bleak ... We think there is a very high extinction risk for killer whales as a species in industrialised regions of Europe," lead author Paul Jepson of the Zoological Society of London, told a telephone news conference.


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