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Scientists May Have Found the Most Contaminated Whale on Earth

Lulu the orca's body contained 100 times the concentration of PCBs known to cause harm to marine mammals, making it the most contaminated whale on Earth.


When you're hungover, eating the cold remnants of last night's California burrito, you might feel like the most contaminated whale on the planet.

 

 

But, as far as science can prove, that accolade likely belongs to a killer whale named Lulu, who was found dead on the Scottish island of Tiree, her body containing off-the-charts levels of chemicals.

 

Lulu was part of the last orca pod remaining in the waters surrounding the United Kingdom. When she died in 2016, entangled in fishing rope, researchers from the Scottish Marine Animal Stranding Scheme and the University of Aberdeen examined her carcass and found shocking amounts of PCBs (or polychlorinated biphenyls, harmful chemicals that were banned in 1979).

In humans and animals, PCBs are linked to health problems, including cancer and infertility. According to the Guardian, if a marine mammal's body contains 9 milligrams of PCBs per kilogram of body weight, that's bad news.

 

Lulu's body contained 100 times that amount.

 

While Lulu's official cause of death was strangulation by fishing rope, the pollutants in her body likely contributed by making her weaker than she would have been otherwise.

The 20-year-old whale also never had a calf, which indicates that she may have been infertile. In fact, her entire pod may have been. In 23 years of observation, scientists have never seen a single calf in the pod.

Even though PCBs have been banned, they don't break down easily, and they bioaccumulate, meaning their effects reach all the way up the food chain.

 

Because whales live for decades, they especially have time to accumulate high levels of PCBs. There's at least one argument against immortality?

 

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