Orcas & Toxic Chemicals
Orcas & Toxic Chemicals in Puget Sound
Orcas are a signature species in Puget Sound. There are only about 80 local resident whales, known as the Southern Resident Community, who live in family groups called J, K, and L pods. Their population was decimated by captures in the ‘60s and ‘70s. After recovering to nearly 100 whales by the early ‘90s, the population recently plummeted again. As top predators, our orcas are among the most contaminated marine mammals on the planet, polluted from the food they eat and the waters they live in with toxic chemicals that reduce immunity to diseases and harm reproduction. Salmon, the resident orcas’ food, are also endangered in Puget Sound.
The toxic uptake of chemicals by animals like orcas that live at the top of the food chain mirror the dangers faced by human residents of Puget Sound exposed to many of the same toxic chemicals.
The Washington Department of Ecology has assessed the loadings of toxic chemicals into Puget Sound. These chemicals or classes of chemicals include:
- PCBs (Polychlorinated biphenyls)
- Dioxins and furans
- Pesticides (current)
- Pesticides (legacy, such as DDT)
- Oil and petroleum products
- PBDE flame retardants
- Hormone disrupting chemicals
- PAHs (Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons)
These toxic chemicals enter the Puget Sound ecosystem through many pathways. They enter Puget Sound through surface runoff, from rivers and streams, from the air, from direct discharges of sewage treatment plants and industries, from contaminated groundwater, from overflows of combined sewage and drainage systems, from chemical spills, from water from the Pacific Ocean, from sediments disturbed by dredging, and from decomposing flora and fauna.
In order to ensure our orca whales are healthy, we need to make sure Puget Sound and the orca’s food sources also are healthy. Reducing and eliminating toxic chemicals going into Puget Sound is a top priority for the marine mammals, humans and fish of the Sound. During the last two legislative sessions, we helped pass legislation to phase out the use and sale of copper in anti-fouling paint on recreational vessels and in automobile brake pads.
People For Puget Sound has been a leader in reducing toxic chemicals in Puget Sound since our inception in 1991. We work on oil spills, point source (industries and sewage treatment plants), contaminated sediment, stormwater, and products in our homes and businesses.