Subject: oil and orcas

Howard Garrett (
Thu, 29 Apr 1999 18:50:34 -0400 (EDT)

I am doing a project for school and would like to know the effect that oil 
spills can have on orcas or any other types of whales.  

        Thank you for asking this very important question. Oil spills may be
the single most devastating threat to orcas and all whales. The harm to
whales can be immediate if they are caught in the oil as it floats on the
water, and it may be chronic, lasting many, many years. 

        The immediate effects of an oil spill were demonstrated in 1989 when
the operator of the Exxon Valdez strayed 8 miles off course in Prince
William Sound and struck a rock, spilling at least 11 million gallons of
thick, crude oil. Before the spill there were 36 members of a pod of orcas
known as the AB pod. Seven days after the spill, four juveniles and three
adults had died. When they rose to breathe, they inhaled the oil and it
coated their lungs. By early 1990 another mother, a maturing male and four
more juveniles had died. Another male died in 1991. By 1994 five more had
died, and a surviving subpod consisting of six orcas had split off and
joined another pod, which rarely happens. Apparently the 17 survivors of AB
pod, once a large, healthy pod, could no longer remain together and had to
split up.

        But perhaps even more damaging are the long-term effects of oil
spills throughout the world's oceans. Oil, along with pesticides,
fertilizers, and other industrial pollutants, contains many long-lasting
poisons, or toxins. Called Persistent Organic Pollutants, or POP's, they are
ingested in tiny quantities by micro-organisms, which are then eaten by
larger animals, and on up the food chain until they are eaten by whales.
These POP's tend to be stored in fatty tissues, and of course whales have
huge supplies of fatty tissues. They also get into the blood and organs of
whales, disrupting their reproductive systems and causing harm to fetuses
and newborns. The toxins are also concentrated in the mother's milk, which
is passed into the bodies of the young, especially the first born, causing
health problems and death.

        Oil spills can be prevented if our whole society values the life of
the oceans. There are thousands of ways to safely contain oil on the land
and in the sea, some of which are expensive and some are easy, but all of
which must be learned and put into practice to stop poisoning the oceans.
People have always just thought of the oceans as a giant dump site. We need
to show in our actions that we care about the animals that live in the sea.
A good school project would be to make many copies of your report and send
it to the big oil companies and to the political officials in charge of
supervising them.

Howard Garrett
Tokitae Foundation
Lolita Campaign Coordinator
(305) 672-4039

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