When a young sperm whale washed up on a beach in southern Spain, scientists wanted to know what killed it. They now know: waste – 64 pounds of it. Most of it was plastic, but ropes, pieces of net and other debris were also lodged in its stomach.
The discovery has prompted authorities in Murcia, Spain to launch a campaign to clean up its beaches.
“The presence of plastic in the ocean and oceans is one of the greatest threats to the conservation of wildlife throughout the world, as many animals are trapped in the trash or ingest large quantities of plastics that end up causing their death,” Murcia’s general director of environment, Consuelo Rosauro, said in a statement.
A sperm whale’s diet is usually comprised of giant squid. But, the 33-foot long mammal that washed up February 27 on the beach of Cabo de Palos was unusually thin.
The necropsy results, released last week, listed just some of the items scientists found stuck in its stomach and intestines: plastic bags, pieces of net and a plastic water container.
Officials said the whale died of an abdominal infection, called peritonitis. It couldn’t digest the waste it had swallowed, causing its digestive system to rupture.
This, officials said, is a concern not only because sperm whales are endangered but also because it’s another grim reminder of how much plastic waste is being dumped into the ocean.
Around 150 million tons of plastic are already floating in our oceans – with an additional eight million tons entering the water each year, according to the World Economic Forum.
A report, released last month, found 70 percent of marine litter is non-degradable plastic. And, that figure is expected to triple within a decade.
Plastic has been found to choke marine wildlife and has also entered the ocean food chain – exposing marine life to toxic chemicals that can end up in the food on our plates.
Murcia’s new campaign will include 11 events to clean the beaches. Jaime Escribano, spokesman for Murcia’s environmental department, said the region will use both regional funds and assistance from the EU for the campaign.