Plastic Pollution: Killer Whales

My inspiration for making mosaics out of plastic from the beach stem from the stories I hear about marine life being affected by trash. It is my hope to spread awareness through my plastic images and inspire people to do their part. So for this blog post I use my orca mosaic as my muse. To share how killer whales are affected by plastic pollution.

Orcaward truth

It didn’t take me long to find a story about a killer whale dying from trash. I came across an article by Alexander Harrow, Orca Found Dead with a Stomach Full of Garbage. In December of 2015 off the coast of South Africa a killer whale beached itself after a week of wandering around the shallows in solitude. After a necropsy was performed the animal was found with no real food but trash in its stomach. It is uncertain if the orca was sick prior to ingesting the garbage and if the trash was either a cause or effect to the death.

While looking for stories about killer whales dying of plastic, unfortunately I expected to find the common mortality from the animal ingesting trash. What I didn’t expect to come across was the threat of Polychlorinated biphenyls or PCB’s. Now this is an organic compound commonly used in paints and coolants that was banned in the 1980’s. Yet it still remains in the ocean and can be found in high concentration levels in the fat and tissues of killer whales. PCB leads to complications like damaging immune systems and reproductive systems. According to the article Half the World’s Orcas Could Soon Disappear—Here’s Why by Craig Welch with National Geographic, “Some killer whales now carry 25 times more PCBs than amounts shown to alter fertility. Mothers even pass the pollutants along during birth or through breast milk.”

So how does the threat of an organic compound like PCB correlate to plastic? It is my understanding that plastic is a transporter of harmful persistent organic pollutants (POPs) such as Polychlorinated biphenyls. According to The Great Nurdle Hunt, “Plastics are known to attract and concentrate chemical contaminants in the sea to their surface. Long lasting harmful chemicals, such as Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs), have been found on plastic at over 1 million times background levels. Plastic can then transport and becone a potential source of toxic chemicals”.

The killer whales most affected by PCB’s reside in the Northern hemisphere. This being the only region I’ve ever seen wild orcas on three different occasions. Once in The San Juan Islands, where we encountered the L pod pictured below. And twice off San Miguel Island. The encounter made me so emotional a crew member caught me crying with tears of excitement while sporting my killer whale tattoo. Killer Whales are such beautiful creatures and they inspire much of my art. So how can we help them fight the plastic plague?

Photo taken by Briana Smith

What can you do

When I’m picking up plastic off the beach sometimes I feel it a daunting task due to the amount of rubbish. But I continue to pick up the pieces and turn the ugly situation to something beautiful. There’s a phrase called “take three for the sea”. Anytime your walking along the beach pick up three pieces of trash (or be an over achiever and get more!) You can also have fun with it and join community cleanups.

I feel the most important part would be to reduce your use of single use plastic. If you haven’t gotten a reusable water bottle, get one! No more plastic utensils or straws. Recycle what you can, and try to encourage and inspire others to do the same.


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