Marine Biology

How Persistent Organic Pollutants Threaten Killer Whale Populations

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"How Persistent Organic Pollutants Threaten Killer Whale Populations"
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Killer whale populations are endemic to all of the world’s oceans. These animals, also referred to as the orca or orca whale, have a broad range of food sources, which include fish, marine animals and other whales. These whales have no natural predators and therefore the danger to population maintenance is primarily a result of pollutants which negatively affect the whales’ food sources and the purity of the habitat where the whales live. How does the persistent presence of organic pollutants affect the ability of killer whale populations to persist and flourish? 

Killer whales exist at the top of the food chain. They feed on other animal species and thus ingest any pollutants that may have been ingested by their prey. Killer whales are thus not only affected by the pollutants directly, but also indirectly by feeding on other animals similarly affected. The continued presence of organic pollutants has a long-term incremental affect on killer whale populations. As killer whale populations flee from their regular areas, they may move into areas that make them prey to humans who desire either to trap them for water parks or kill them for their meat and other parts that are considered desirable by certain human cultures. The continual ingestion of pollutants weakens the animals and makes them easier to capture and kill.

One of the significant dangers to the health of humans, animals and the environment is the presence of persistent organic pollutants, otherwise known as toxic chemicals. Wind and water can transport these pollutants from their source to wide-ranging areas around the world. Killer whale populations that have existed safely in an area for a very long time can find that they are suddenly endangered by the presence of toxic chemicals that were released a long distance away. The fact that these whales both live in the water and breathe in oxygen from the atmosphere makes them even more susceptible to such pollutants and more likely to be affected seriously by them. As these chemicals build up within lesser animal species, otherwise healthy looking animals are ingested by killer whales and the level of toxic chemicals multiplies, causing health problems and, over time, leading to a decrease in the level of the killer whale population in a particular area.

Persistent organic pollutants have a number of negative effects on biological species. The ingestion of toxic chemicals has been shown to cause declines in animal populations, an increase in certain diseases within these populations and particular abnormalities within these groups. Killer whales need to maintain a certain level of population in order to survive. Disease and abnormality lower the ability of healthy whales to reproduce and reduce the ability of these whales to hunt food and avoid attack and capture by humans. Disease can easily spread through a killer whale population, continuing to threaten the health of the group as a whole. Abnormalities can not only limit the ability of killer whales to breed successfully, but also limit the ability of these particular whales to engage in activities necessary for health.

The effect of toxic chemical build-up in an area is significantly detrimental to the survival and health of killer whale populations. The necessity of having to seek new hunting grounds brings killer whales into contact with otherwise unknown threats to health and prosperity. Killer whales are extremely social and rely on interaction in order to live healthy lives and to reproduce effectively. Continually having to escape the build-up of pollutants in one area and searching for healthy hunting grounds is detrimental to the social interaction that is essential for healthy killer whale populations. Persistent organic pollutants put pressure on populations of killer whales that is regular and enduring, and this pressure has a long-term damaging affect.

Toxic chemicals in the environment are a serious, continual danger. Their presence in air and water throughout the world has a negative affect on all species, but because of certain key aspects of killer whales, they are more seriously threatened by these chemicals. Killer whales rely on healthy air and water to live, hunt and reproduce and thus the enduring presence of such toxic chemicals has an even more serious affect on these populations. The presence of killer whales at the top of the food chain makes them a more significant target of the continual build-up of toxic chemicals within the various animal populations that killer whales feast on. Damage to the dwelling areas of killer whales by pollutants forces them to move to other areas and potentially makes them more susceptible to capture or killing. The negative affects of toxic chemicals limit health and reproductive ability within killer whale populations. Killer whales are intensely susceptible to the dangers of toxic chemicals, and their persistent presence is a very real threat to the whales' existence.

More about this author: Ken Grant

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