Humpbacks
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The orcas come to the fjords round Kvaløya to feast on herring

Europe’s killer whales wowed within the BBC’s Blue Planet II series however these animals face extinction. Chris Gibson travelled to the small Norwegian island of Kvaløya the place the orcas retain a robust foothold. However for a way for much longer?

It was a type of tv moments. The sight of killer whales herding shoals of herring into tighter and tighter balls to entice the prey close to the floor of the water.

The killer whales work as a pack of skilful hunters earlier than deploying their secret weapon – tail-slapping the fish so hard they are either dazed or die.

The story behind these photographs is much more exceptional.

They had been filmed within the majestic Norwegian fjords. These lengthy, slim inlets are actually among the many few locations in Europe you’ll be able to see a pod of killer whales.

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Blue Planet II confirmed the orcas tail-slapping to stun the fish

Throughout Europe, these cetaceans are declining quickly.

Within the Mediterranean and the North Sea, they’ve vanished.

Elsewhere, there are actually solely eight killer whales within the NW Scotland-Eire inhabitants, and solely 36 left within the Strait of Gibraltar inhabitants.

Scientists imagine they’re doomed to extinction attributable to dangerous chemical compounds manufactured by man.

This worrying decline explains why vacationers and marine biologists are flocking to the fjords round Kvaløya – which aptly interprets as Whale Island.

Kvaløya is nestled within the Arctic Circle, near town of Tromsø.

It’s the land of the Northern Lights, of snow-capped mountains and weak winter solar. Additionally it is the land of observing one thing spectacular.

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The humpbacks can take 100kg of fish in a single gulp

It is right here humpback whale broadcasts its presence with a thunderous blast of water by means of its blowhole – a sound just like the opening of the woodwind part of an orchestra.

Shortly afterwards, a pod of killer whales arrives on the scene. The orcas glide with grace by means of the icy water.

Marcus Åhlund is a tour information who spends a number of hours at sea on his boat day-after-day and sometimes in freezing temperatures.

Hearteningly, he’s nonetheless so visibly excited by seeing the pod.

Marcus lives on Kvaløya and tells me with an enormous smile on his face that the numbers of killer whales right here are literally on the rise. However he is aware of the cherished pictures of his passengers and these lasting reminiscences should not be taken with no consideration.

“We thought we misplaced them,” he stated. “The island is known as after the whales as a result of they had been all the time discovered right here. However for 70 years, the whales deserted the island. It is solely within the final 5 years that they have been coming again.”

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Marcus Åhlund recognises the fragility of the scenario

The return of the killer whales after so a few years left locals and scientists scratching their heads. It did not make sense when the remainder of Europe’s killer whale inhabitants was dying off.

Fredrik Broms, an area marine biologist and eager photographer, believes the reply is easy. Meals.

The killer whales are simply following their lunch like a human at a drive-through restaurant – the large shoals of herring.

“That is one among nature’s largest feeding frenzies. The herring modified their route. They’ve began to come back again right here and so the whales comply with,” he stated.

Scientists imagine these Norwegian orcas are faring significantly better than their cousins within the south due to their weight-reduction plan.

In Kvaløya and throughout northern Norway, the whales gorge themselves virtually solely on herring. These smaller fish feed on plankton and are due to this fact much less uncovered to a poisonous group of chemical compounds generally known as PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls).

Nonetheless, within the Mediterranean and round UK shores, killer whales eat giant fish which can be already increased up the meals chain and due to this fact carry a bigger load of PCBs.

These dangerous chemical compounds had been as soon as utilized in electrical gear, paints and flame retardants. They had been used closely within the development of tower blocks however had been banned from the 1970s due to their poisonous impact in people and animals.

Nonetheless, the artifical chemical compounds have leached into the ocean, and are accumulating in prime predators.

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Getty Photographs

  • Polychlorinated biphenyls had been manufactured from the 1920s
  • Banned within the US in 1979, the UK in 1981 and the remainder of the EU
  • Europe produced some 300,000t from 1954 to 1984
  • About 90% of it has but to be destroyed or safely saved away
  • PCBs had been utilized in tower blocks, particularly in sealants
  • These fill gaps between the concrete blocks of the buildings
  • Many of those tower blocks have since been demolished
  • The rubble was buried in landfill, and even used for sea defences
  • PCBs had been present in coolant fluids in electrical equipment
  • Additionally in chopping fluids for machining operations, and carbonless copy
  • Right this moment, solely North Korea nonetheless manufactures polychlorinated biphenyls

“A whole lot of these PCBs, we do not know the way a lot, haven’t been disposed of and are slowly leaking into rivers and estuaries, from landfills, and ultimately into the marine surroundings,” defined Dr Paul Jepson, a specialist wildlife veterinarian from the Zoological Society of London, UK.

The chemical compounds then step by step work their means up the meals chain and into the highest marine predators, the place they accumulate within the cetaceans’ blubber.

As soon as a whale accumulates a excessive sufficient stage of those poisonous chemical compounds, their likelihood of reproducing turns into non-existent. Primarily, PCBs make the orcas infertile.

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Media captionHumpback whales bask underneath the Northern Lights

Researchers analysed samples taken from greater than 1,000 killer whales and dolphins in Europe’s waters.

“Our findings present that, regardless of the ban and preliminary decline in environmental contamination, PCBs nonetheless persist at dangerously excessive ranges in European cetaceans,” defined Dr Jepson.

The degrees are increased than these present in cetaceans within the waters round America and elsewhere.

Now, Paul Jepson has teamed up with the UK Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme and DEFRA’s chief scientific advisor, Prof Ian Boyd, to induce more durable motion.

“We name on the UK and different European governments to make a listing of PCBs in joint sealants utilized in giant buildings constructed within the 1950s-1980s,” stated the ZSL researcher.

“Laws is also utilized to demolition of those buildings to ensure that PCBs are captured and disposed of appropriately – following the lead of some Scandinavian international locations.”

Again to Kvaløya and the seemingly wholesome wanting pod of killer whales continues to bop within the water. Often, their dorsal fins break the tide, resembling a pack of submarines.

However with extra PCBs ending up in Arctic waters, might their time be working out?

“PCBs within the Arctic had been declining over a few years – however within the final 5-10 years ranges of PCBs have both stabilised and even elevated in some Arctic species like polar bears and killer whales. This can be a very worrying development if it had been to proceed,” stated Dr Jepson.

Because the tour boat begins to make its means again to shore, Fredrik Broms tries frantically captures as many photos of the orcas as he can.

“It is really easy to inform if a whale has been broken on the skin, akin to colliding with a ship propeller or a fishing web. It will have scars. Nevertheless it’s a lot tougher to know what is going on on inside their physique… what chemical compounds are there.”