In March 2013, a 10-meter-long sperm whale washed up on the southern coast of Spain. The sperm whale had swallowed 59 different plastic items, which in total weighed around 17 kilos.
Most of the plastic consisted of transparent laminate used in the construction of tomato greenhouses in Almería and Granada for commercialization in the European market. The rest were plastic bags, thirty feet of rope, two strips of hoses, two small flowerpots, and a plastic spray can.
The cause of death was intestinal blockage.
These are not uncommon incidents.
In 1989, a sperm whale stranded on the Lavezzi Islands in the Tyrrhenian Sea died of a stomach obstruction after accidentally ingesting plastic bags and 100 feet of plastic sheeting.
In 1990, a sperm whale in Iceland, being examined for disease, died from an obstruction in its intestine caused by marine plastic debris.
In August 2008, a sperm whale was dragged to Point Reyes, California, with 205 kilos of fishing net, rope and plastic bags in its stomach.
The California Marine Mammal Stranding database tells us of another sperm whale stranded in 2008 that was found to be contained in its stomach, including a large amount of remains of fishing nets.
The sperm whale that washed up in Holland in July was missing much of its lower jaw.
Among the hundreds of thousands of sperm whales at which whalers shoot their harpoons, sperm whales with broken or misshapen lower jaws can be found regularly. Most of these sperm whales have full stomachs and are healthy just before being slaughtered.
This and the fact that the squids found in their stomachs are whole and rarely show tooth marks, leads us to think about the theory that the lower jaws do not have such an important role in hunting their prey and that sperm whales suck their food instead of biting it.
If this theory is true, sperm whales are just as vulnerable to ingesting marine debris as humpback whales are. Another member of the cetacean family that manages at high depths and feeds on squid is the Cuvier's beaked whale.
In May 2011, a young female Gervais's beaked whale was found on a beach in Puerto Rico with 5 kilos of plastic in her stomach.
In July 2006, a 20-year-old female Cuvier's beaked whale died in the Cook Islands, Rarotonga, after ingesting only one plastic bag. Sperm whales and beaked whales are particularly susceptible to swallowing plastic and fishing items as these items resemble their natural prey, squid, in the same way that sea turtles are susceptible to swallowing plastic bags because they resemble amoebas.
Humpback whales suffer a similar fate, not because of the visual resemblance of garbage to their food, but rather because of the large amounts of water they swallow when feeding.
In August 2000, a Bryde's whale washed up off Cairns in Australia.
His stomach was saturated with twenty square meters of plastic waste, including grocery bags, food packages and pieces of garbage bags.
In April 2010, more than 20 plastic bags, small towels, surgical gloves, pieces of plastic, duct tape, exercise pants and a ball were found in a gray whale that died after being washed up on a beach west of Seattle. golf, plus other garbage found in his stomach.
Plastic is not digestible and once it reaches the intestines, it accumulates and clogs them. In the case of some whales, it is not the plastic that kills them directly, but rather the malnutrition and disease that comes from ingesting the plastic, which leads to unnecessary suffering to the point of death.
Whales are not the only victims of our garbage. It is estimated that about one million birds and 100,000 marine mammals die each year from plastic waste.
In September 2009, photographs of albatross chicks on Midway Atoll made their way into the public eye. These chicks were fed plastic, something their parents viewed as food in polluted oceans.
This type of human litter diet kills tens of thousands of albatross chicks each year in Midway from starvation, toxicity, and suffocation. We can all do our part to limit our use of plastic products such as shopping bags, birthday balloons, light bulbs and plastic bottles.
Be an austere shopper and recycle!