Their Milk, and Ours, Is It Safe to Drink?

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The milk that Orca mothers provide their babies is incredibly rich, up to 43% fat, which is a higher fat content than pure whipping cream. Ben and Jerry’s Phish Food™ ice cream is only about 42% fat, including the caramel and chocolate fishes! In contrast, human milk contains, on average, just 4.2 % fat, or about 1/10th of the fat that mother whales must provide to nourish their calves.

CWR 2007 (Photo by Dave Ellifrit)

The mother whales utilize their own fat deposits, especially in lean times, to provide the nutrition needed to make the ice cream-rich milk need to keep their babies alive.

Yet the mother’s milk may have long term detrimental effects.

Along with all the good nutrition, high levels of toxins are transferred to the mother’s milk. This has the effect of reducing the mom’s toxic load but at a price that no mother would choose.

A first born calf receives much of the mother’s lifetime accumulations, which the calf will continue to add to over the course of it’s own lifetime as it dines on contaminated prey. Our residential pods prefer Chinook salmon and the Chinook from Puget Sound may contain the highest levels of certain contaminants that have been measured on the west coast.

And unfortunately, we are in the same boat. Human breastmilk also shows significant levels of those pollutants, and the Washington State Department of Health has made this handy chart to help us avoid a toxic overload:

Healthy Fish Guide
Eat Fish, Be Smart, Choose Wisely
This guide is for everyone – especially women who might become pregnant, are pregnant, are nursing, or young children. The fish in the green column are great choices so enjoy! If you choose fish from the yellow column enjoy and eat only once a week and do not eat any other fish meals that week. The red column are fish that should be avoided by women who might become pregnant, are pregnant, are nursing, or young children. Our toxicologists have created the Healthy Fish Guide and a checklist to keep your exposure to contaminants like mercury and PCBs low and to help you gain the health benefits that you get from eating fish.


If only the whales could read….

What does all this mean for the new calves? It’s not all bad news, which we will examine soon!

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