About 64 pounds of plastic trash killed a young sperm whale that washed up in southeast Spain, according to scientists.
The whale, whose body landed in Cape Palos on Feb. 27, most likely died because it couldn’t digest the plastic trash, fish nets, and garbage bags found in its digestive system. At 33 feet long, the whale only weighed 13,000 pounds. Adult sperm whales can weigh up to 120,000 pounds.
According to officials in the Murcia region, scientists even found a plastic drum in the whale’s stomach. Unable to pass the garbage, the whale suffered severe inflammation called peritonitis until its death.
A local environmental group tweeted a photo that shows how underweight the juvenile whale was when he died.
Consuelo Rosauro, Murcia’s general director of environment, called plastic pollution of the oceans “one of the greatest threats to the conservation of wildlife throughout the world.” In a statement, the region of Murcia called for a public effort to clean up the seas. Officials there released the whale’s autopsy to raise awareness about how much plastic affects Spain’s seas.
Sperm whales dwell thousands of feet deep in the ocean to hunt for giant squid. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the whales’ diets are comprised of squid, octopus, shrimp, fish, and small sharks. But when the whales resurface for air, they can mistake floating plastic trash for food.
Pollution, especially plastic waste, can devastate ocean ecosystems. A recent study found that the Great Pacific Garbage Patch — which is more than twice the size of Texas — is about four to sixteen times larger than scientists previously estimated. The massive island of floating debris contains about 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic.
Wildlife are severely affected by wayward trash — a 2017 study found that plastic was found all the way in the Arctic Ocean, endangering polar bears and seals. A 2015 study found that 75 percent of the flounder that live in the Thames River in the UK have ingested plastic.
Rosauro, in the statement, reminded civilians of the “importance of pursuing conservation of the great variety of species that inhabit our coasts.”