Sperm whales have recently been washing up dead on beaches near the North Sea. Can you guess what was found in their stomachs? Here’s a hint: it’s a type of material that should be recycled. You guessed it — plastic. Researchers found that the whales had large amounts of plastic trash in their bellies. One whale had a 43-foot-long shrimp fishing net, a plastic bucket, and a plastic car engine cover. According to Plastic Oceans Foundation, we are producing almost 300 million tons of plastic each year and half of it is for single use items. Over 8 million tons of plastic ends up in our oceans every year. Items such as plastic bags, bottles, and food packaging degrades slowly. Over time the plastic breaks down into micro-plastics and are eaten by sea life. The animals become poisoned and choked and some become entangled in the plastic bags.Thirteen sperm whales washed ashore in Germany in 2016 but this wasn’t abnormal. In only the first three months of the year, over 30 sperm whales were found washed up on a beach in Europe.
Five sperm whales were also found dead and washed ashore on the British coast, adding on to the death toll from the North Sea.
For some reason, these whales tend to wash up in the North Sea, even though it’s not somewhere they ordinarily hunt.
Regardless of what the main cause of the beachings are, the massive presence of plastic in the sperm whales’ stomachs are a serious problem.
Plastic found in one whale included a part of a plastic bucket, a 13-meter-long fishing net, and a plastic cover from the engine of a car.
One whale found off the coast of Norway was euthanized after scientists realized it wasn’t going to make it. Zoologist Dr Terje Lislevand said, “The whale’s stomach was full of plastic bags and packaging with labels in Danish and English.” The plastic bags blocked its intestines and were causing the whale severe pain.
According to scientists, the whales may accidentally consume plastic because they mistaken them for prey. Other times, the whales might intentionally eat the waste that floats atop the water to end their hunger.
37 pounds of plastic was discovered in the belly of one sperm whale washed up on Spain’s southern coast in 2013. The plastic items included coat hangers, plastic sheeting, and ice cream containers.
Although the ocean mammals can survive from consuming some plastic, it may cause them to starve over time by blocking their intestines.
Experts say there are 5 trillion pieces of plastic floating around the ocean. Our throw-away society is killing marine life. This photo shows the plastic bags found in one whale’s belly.
Hal Whitehead, whale researcher at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, Canada said to National Geographic: “The plastic debris in [the whales’] stomachs is a horrible indictment of humans.”
Unfortunately what they found inside the whales’ stomachs was a depressing wake up call to the negative impact mankind has on the ocean.
Nearly all seabirds are eating plastic. Bottle caps, synthetic fibers from clothing, bags, and tiny broken down bits were found in birds’ bellies.
There’s so much plastic trash floating in the ocean that 90% of birds are eating it. It’s estimated that all birds will be consuming it by 2050. Scientist Denise Hardesty discovered one sea bird that had eaten 200 pieces of plastic.
It’s estimated that 85% of all sea turtles will be injured or killed by plastics.
A plastic bag has a working life of only 12 minutes. This is just not worth it because a plastic bag has a life expectancy of up to 1,000 years. Many plastic bags end up in the ocean trapping marine life or in the bellies of fish, turtles, dolphins, seals, puffins, and whales.
Plastic bags are cheap and easy but their cost to the environment isn’t worth it. Stop using plastic bags and bring your own to the grocery store or ask for paper bags.
Americans use more than 100 billion plastic bags each year. That’s 300 bags for each person every year! Think about it, every time you buy something and get a plastic bag you are contributing to the problem.
Stop buying individual bottles of water or juice or items that are designed for one time use only. Use a reusable bottle or mug for your drinks. Buy glass or boxed items and if you must use a straw, purchase a glass or stainless straw instead.
Microbeads are commonly found in beauty products like facial washes and whitening scrubbers in toothpastes. These tiny pieces of plastic are impossible to get rid of and find their way into the sea. Eventually they are mistaken for food and eaten by marine life.
Buy bulk items whenever possible as this saves money and you won’t be contributing to the problem with unnecessary plastic throwaway items.
We have to bring awareness to this extremely important issue. Most of us don’t think about what we throw away each day and where it ends up. We’re so unaware and disconnected and this has to change.
If we continue what we’re doing the ocean will contain more plastic than fish by the year 2050.
If you live in a coastal city get involved by helping out with beach cleanups.