When a 13 metre long adolescent sperm whale was washed ashore in the Netherlands in July 2013, rescuers assumed that it was a standard case of accidental stranding.
They were wrong. The young whale was obviously distressed and unwell. Despite all attempts to rescue him, he sadly died shortly after.
The young whale’s body was sent to a nearby port for an autopsy, where the vets made a truly shocking discovery. The teenage whale hadn’t died from natural causes. He had choked to death on plastic waste. Then, in March this year another whale was washed up in Spain. It had died of the same thing.
The Spanish whale had swallowed 59 different plastic items, including huge amounts of greenhouse sheeting used in industrial scale tomato production. It had also consumed plastic rope, hosepipe, flower pots and a spray canister. It was a truly shocking discovery.
But this isn’t a new phenomenon. It has been happening for years. In 1989, a sperm whale died of a stomach obstruction after consuming plastic bags and sheeting. In 1990, another sperm whale died when its intestines were blocked with plastic waste. In 2008, a sperm whale washed up on a California beach was found to have 450 pounds of fishing net and rope in its stomach. Later that year, another whale was found on a California beach having consumed fishing equipment.
It has to stop. Sperm whales aren’t the only species affected by the huge amount of plastic in our oceans. All whales who dive deeply and hunt squid- which look like plastic bags- are vulnerable. Baleen whales, Bryde’s whales and beaked whales are also found dead on a regular basis with their stomachs full of plastic bag waste. Smaller whales don’t have to eat a lot of plastic to suffer ill effects. In 2006, a 20 year old beaked whale died after eating just ONE plastic bag.
Other items found inside dead whales include food packages, fragments of trash bags, small towels, surgical gloves, plastic pieces, duct tape, a pair of sweat pants, and a golf ball, not to mention other garbage. It’s truly disgusting.
Why is plastic so deadly? Well, for one thing, whales can’t digest it. When it’s eaten, it finds its way into the stomach and blocks the intestines. Many whales aren’t killed by the plastic directly, some starve to death or die of malnutrition and disease. This is almost worse, as it leads to a slow, lingering death and unnecessary pain and suffering.
What’s more: whales aren’t the only creatures affected. Hundreds of thousands of seabirds also consume rubbish every year. In fact, it’s estimated that over ONE MILLION birds and 100,000 sea mammals die each year due to plastic debris: unsurprising given the fact that there is a massive floating raft of plastic waste called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch between China and the USA. This huge patch of debris is a mass of plastic, pollutants and chemical sludge that is almost twice the size of the United States.
Still not convinced? Watch this video and you will realise the true scale of the problem.
If you want to reduce your impact on the environment – and help save some whales- here are some tips to reduce plastic waste. Share this post with your family and friends if you agree that we need to clean up our act!