Nature vs. humans: sperm whales poisoned by plastic while birds starve. Stop the pollution.
In January this year 29 sperm whales washed up on beaches around the North Sea, with 13 beached in the town of Tönning in Germany. During the autopsy, scientists discovered that the whales’ stomachs were full of plastic waste, including a 13 meter fishing net and a 70 cm piece of plastic from a car.
This phenomenon is caused by the fact that the animals are unable to digest the plastic, and when their stomachs are full of plastic there is no more room for food. The result is that the animals starve to death. The plastic can also choke them or block their intestines. Fortunately, in most cases the sperm whales vomit up the plastic they consume, but sadly this is not always the case.
Of course the fact that pollution is killing animals is nothing new. Their deaths are only occasionally so clearly due to human causes that nothing else can be blamed. In 2011 a young sperm whale was found dead on the beaches of Mykonos in Greece. Scientists at first thought it had eaten a giant squid because its stomach was so bloated, but when they opened it up they found almost 100 plastic bags and other pieces of plastic in its stomach.
The sperm whale, imposing yet vulnerable
We may be awed by the imposing beauty of the sperm whale, but thousands of these magnificent creatures suffer from the waste we dump in the oceans. Just like all animals, they are vulnerable to pollution, even though we place them on a pedestal. We simply don’t make the connection between our consumption of plastic and the deaths of many innocent animals. They are the victims of industrialisation.
Comparable scenes on Midway Island: birds stuffed with plastic
The death of the sperm whales resembles that of the nesting albatrosses on Midway Island. Many skeletons of the young chicks were found on the island, their stomachs bloated with plastic. Their parents inadvertently fed them this plastic, including pull-tabs, bottle tops and lighters. The chicks starved to death, even though their stomachs were full.
Plastic in our oceans: an ongoing problem that endangers both animals and humans
According to a 2014 study, there are over 5 billion pieces of plastic floating in our oceans. Added up, they weigh over 250,000 tons. And it’s not just plastic, but also things like the endocrine disrupters, PCBs and parabens that are contained in the plastic and other consumer goods. The amount of plastic in the seas will only increase, as a mere 5% is recycled.
If you’d like to know more about the plastic in our oceans, check out our ‘Save the Sea’ section and read the many articles available there.