After a few months of investigation, the sperm whale that was found dead on the Murcian coast has been found to have died as a result of gastric shock. The whale washed up on in southern Spain in February, and has now been shown to have ingested 64 pounds of plastic waste. This ultimately serves to remind us just how damaging sea pollution due to plastic waste has been to the ocean wildlife.
El Valle Wildlife Rescue Center did the autopsy, and found damage to the whale’s stomach and intestines, as well as plastic bags, ropes, nets, sacks, and even a jerrycan that the whale was unable to digest or expel from its system.
The inner wall’s of its stomach were found to be suffering from either a fungal or bacterial infection, as a result of the plastic, which caused peritonitis – the inflammation of the membrane that lines the inner abdomen and organs within.
The sperm whale is an endangered species, protected by the Endangered Species Conservation Act, in the United States, as well as protected by a whaling moratorium. In addition, it is listed as “vulnerable” by the IUCN, or International Union for Conservation of Nature.
For the most part, sperm whales eat squid, and typically live around 70 years, having roughly the same lifespan as a human. Usually, male sperm whales will average 52 feet in length when mature, some getting up to 67 feet, but the male that washed ashore measured only 33 feet. The dead whale weighed over 6 tons, but is believed to be a juvenile.
This whale’s death, the latest in a long, somber list of deaths due to plastic, really emphasizes how bad the plastic waste problem has gotten in the oceans. Just two years ago, after all, an entire pod of sperm whales, 13 in all, washed ashore and were found to be victims of plastic waste.
There is a significant need for beach cleaning, and as a result of the whale’s death, a government-led campaign against plastic waste being dumped into the water has begun in Murcia.
Whales aren’t the only victims of plastic, though. Dolphins, sea turtles, fish, and more are all suffering from an over-abundance of plastic pollution. The problem will only increase in the years to come, and based on a recently conducted study, there are already approximately 5 trillion individual pieces of plastic floating through our oceans.
In addition, marine experts have expressed a belief that the weight of plastic, total, could outweigh the entirety of fish in the oceans, all by 2050 – not that far away.
In an effort to deal with what is essentially a plastic crisis, many countries are beginning to phase out items such as single-use plastic grocery bags. The EU is hoping and pushing for all plastic to be recyclable or reusable by 2030, and there are many agencies that are considering phasing out plastics that are not biodegradable.
In the meantime, we continue to fight sea pollution and plastic pollution through dedicated beach and ocean cleanups.