Last January, 29 sperm whales were found stranded on shores around the North Sea, which is an area too shallow for the marine wildlife. Yet, the details of their necropsy were released recently, and the findings disturbed scientists.
A press release from Wadden Sea National Park in Schleswig-Holstein reported that the stomachs of many of the whales were full of plastic debris, including pieces of plastic litter, a 13-meter-long fishing net, and a 70 cm piece of plastic from a car.
While some believe that the whales consumed them thinking they were food, like squid, others maintain that this is mainly caused by the humanity’s shocking disregard for marine life, which has led to high amounts of plastic in the oceans.
Robert Habeck, environment minister for the state of Schleswig-Holstein, said:
“These findings show us the results of our plastic-oriented society. Animals inadvertently consume plastic and plastic waste, which causes them to suffer, and at worst, causes them to starve with full stomachs.”
Nicola Hodgkins of Whale and Dolphin Conservation added:
“Although the large pieces will cause obvious problems and block the gut, we shouldn’t dismiss the smaller bits that could cause a more chronic problem for all species of cetacean – not just those who suction feed.”
Yet, this case is unfortunately not the first, as in 2011, a young whale was found floating dead off the Greek island of Mykonos. When they saw his distended stomach, biologists thought it swallowed a giant squid, but what they found were 100 plastic bags and other pieces of debris.
Yet, according to National Geographic, the sperm whales died of heart failure, while they were mistakenly swimming into the North Sea, searching for squid, and were unable to support their body weight in the shallow water, so they internal organs collapsed.
“Male sperm whales normally migrate from their tropical or subtropical breeding grounds to colder waters at higher latitudes. The species is one of the deepest diving animals in the cetacean family, known to plummet as far as 3,280 feet (1,000 meters) in search of squid, its favorite food. The beached whales were all young males between the ages of 10 and 15, and the necropsies revealed that they died of heart failure. “
According to Danny Groves, a spokesperson for the nonprofit Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC):
“It is thought that the sperm whales may have got lost and entered the North Sea (possibly chasing squid), where the sea floor is not deep enough, causing the whales to become disorientated and die.”
However, the discovery of pollution in their stomach is horrible and saddening. People continue throwing plastic on land, and 80% of it ends up in the oceans and is often consumed by swirls and wildlife.
Despite ocean pollution, even though the end of widespread commercial whaling helped the global increase of their population, the whales face threats from ship collisions, and fishing nets as well.