Water/Wastewater

How Does Plastic Pollution Affect Whales?

Jun 10 2018 Read 385 Times

The growing amount of plastic pollution in our rivers, seas and oceans can have a devastating effect on marine wildlife both large and small. Earlier this month, a male pilot whale died ingesting 80 plastic bags off the southern coast of Thailand.

The poor creature was discovered by Thai authorities floating listlessly in one of the country’s canals and a veterinary team was summoned to try and save its life. However, after vomiting up five bags during the rescue attempts, the whale succumbed to the pollution and died.

Five days of agony

The pilot whale was first discovered on Monday 28th May by locals near the Thai border with Malaysian. Using buoys to keep it afloat and an umbrella to shade it from the scorching rays of the sun, the citizens called for a medical team to try and save the whale.

Unfortunately, after five days of fruitless attempts to stabilise its condition, the whale died on Friday 1st June. An autopsy later revealed it had swallowed 80 plastic bags with a total combined weight of as much as 8kg. The bags effectively stopped it from eating any nutritional food, and it was this factor which led to its death.

Plastic pollution a real threat to biodiversity

Thailand is one of the world’s biggest users of single-use plastic bags and the vast majority of these are not recycled. With improper disposal methods rife and inadequate flood prevention measures in place, it’s little wonder that much of these polluting items find their way into open waters.

Indeed, it’s estimated that 300 marine animals die off the Thai coast every year due to ingesting plastic pollution. As well as affecting pilot whales (as in this case), the contamination has also been known to claim the lives of a wide range of species, including dolphins and sea turtles.

Thailand a microcosm of the wider world

While plastic pollution might be exaggerated in Southeast Asia, the problem is far from limited to this corner of the world. Indeed, grey water containing alarming amounts of plastic is found all over the globe and in abundant amounts in the Mediterranean Sea, which the WHO has warned may become a “sea of plastics” before long. Already, it contains four times more plastic than other open seas.

A recent report from the Pelagos Cetacean Research Institute discovered that over 33% of sperm whales found dead in waters off the coast of Greece had plastic in their stomachs. In another incident two years ago, 29 sperm whales were found dead in the North Sea. Post-mortems of the whale’s bodies revealed that they had all swallowed plastics, including some of substantial size belonging to cars.

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