This rare Cuvier’s beaked whale, also known as a goose-beaked whale, was seen repeatedly beached on the shores of Sorta Island in Norway. The Department of Wildlife Conservation and the local fire department herded or towed back the whale into deeper waters each time they found it stranded in the shallow waters. But this time the 20-foot adult male whale was found unhealthily ill. He was euthanized and scientists found that the whale’s stomach was filled with about 30 plastic bags and other garbage.
A Word from the Experts
According to zoologist Terje Lislevand from the University of Bergen, they found no food in the whale’s stomach apart from remnants of a squid head and a thin layer of fat. He was shocked to see that the plastic garbage filled the entire stomach, not just a small portion. “It’s the explanation of why the animal acted so strange and stranded… in this case the plastic particles accumulated and created a barrier in the system.” Lislevand believes that the goose-beaked whale had been experiencing serious pain for a long time.
The Norwegian public media NRK reported that during the whale’s necropsy, garbage such as candy wrappers and bread bags were found in addition to the single-use plastic bags. According to researchers, the whale may have mistaken the bags for squid. Instead of gaining the nutrition it needed, the whale began to suffer from eating the plastic pollution that humans have accumulated on this Earth. The euthanized goose-beaked whale was the first of its species ever found along the coast of Norway.
Plastic Pollution in our Oceans
Science Magazine estimates that between 4.8 and 12.7 million metric tons of plastic waste is dumped in our oceans yearly. And according to a World Economic Forum study, our oceans have a least 150 million tons of trash in them. Humans continually pollute the planet with plastic waste, and most people don’t even realize that they’re negatively affecting marine life. The University of California and Davis and Hasanuddin University in Indonesia conducted a joint study in 2015 to find out what was in the bellies of fish sold in the fish markets of California and Indonesia. They found that one-fourth of the fish they sampled had plastic or other fibrous garbage in their bellies.
When plastic products and other pieces of garbage are unintentionally swallowed by marine wildlife, the results can be fatal. They often think plastic products are food and ingest enough to negatively affect their health. When whales swallow large pieces of plastic, their gut can be blocked and cause them to starve to death. Smaller plastics are also harmful cumulatively and can also harm smaller marine animals.
The euthanized goose-beaked whale is just one of the many victims in our oceans to be negatively affected by plastic pollution. Another tragic case occurred in August 2016 when 29 sperm whales were found dead along the shores of North Sea Island in Germany. Scientists found that their stomachs were filled with plastic debris such as a 13 meter long and 1.2 meter wide fishing net, sharp plastic fragments from a bucket and a plastic part from a vehicle’s engine.
Not only is plastic pollution harmful for marine life, but now humans are being affected via the food chain. The problem of plastic has gotten to the point where seafood eaters are now also ingesting particles of plastic. Many humans are unaware that plastic has become part of their diets, and the health concerns could be just as serious as it is for marine life.
We must not wait for the problem to get worse. It’s important that we take charge and reduce the amount of plastic we use and that we so easily dispose of. Raising awareness is also key to ensuring the word spreads, and hopefully society will begin to realize the harmful effects of plastic for humans and the environment.