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Wednesday, 4 December 2019

Sperm whale found dead on Scottish coast with 100 kg of waste in stomach


With the rise of human industrial activities, ocean pollution has grown steadily in recent years, including plastic pollution whose signs are now visible in all oceans and seas of the world. The first victims of this situation are marine animals ingesting plastic waste. Many stranded marine mammals have, in recent years, been found with alarming amounts of objects in their stomachs. But recently, it is a new sinister record that has been established on the Scottish coast, where a sperm whale has been found with 100 kg of various waste in the stomach.

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The young sperm whale ( Physeter macrocephalus ) ran aground on November 28 at Luskentyre Beach, Scotland, in the Outer Hebrides Islands. He died shortly after. Fishing nets, ropes, tubes and an assortment of plastic wastes formed a compact mass inside the 20-tonne animal, and some appeared to have been there for some time.



The skin and fat of the whales isolating them so effectively, the bacteria inside a corpse of whale can multiply quickly, even when the temperature of the air is low. While bacteria help decompose leftovers, they produce gases that build up pressure inside the body, and the sperm whale on the Scottish beach was no exception.

After having naturally opened in two under the effect of internal gases, the sperm whale's body revealed 100 kg of various waste: ropes, nets, plastic bags, etc. Credits: SMASS

He "somehow exploded" during the examination of his corpse. " By the time we got near the corpse to look at it, the sperm whale had been dead for 48 hours and most of the guts were blown when we put a knife in, " writes a SMASS representative.

To better understand coastal strandings of marine animals

SMASS researchers and volunteers collect and analyze data on stranded animals along the Scottish coast, which includes 790 islands and stretches 19,000 kilometers. By performing necropsies and studying the remains of failed marine life - sharks, porpoises, dolphins, sea turtles and seals, as well as whales - scientists can better understand the biological and environmental conditions that lead to stranding.

While the amount of waste inside the whale was impressive, the animal appeared to be in good health and not malnourished. It is likely that the scoop of ball was a hindrance to digestion, but SMASS experts found no evidence that ingested debris was blocking the whale's intestines.

Plastic pollution: a deadly global danger for all marine animals

Other sinister examples of dead whales with belly full of plastic that have been stranded on the coasts of other countries exist. A pregnant sperm whale that floated on an Italian beach in April, died with 22 kg of waste in its stomach, and a Cuvier's beaked whale that arrived in the Philippines in March had swallowed 40 kg of waste. Sperm whales that were stranded in 2018 in Spain and Indonesia also had indigestible masses in their belly.

Large marine mammals are not the only ones to suffer from ocean pollution. Here is a photo of Emily Mirowski, a marine biologist at the Gumbo Limbo Center, performing the autopsy of a turtle. You can see the pile of plastic pieces extracted from his stomach next to it. Credits: Gumbo Limbo Nature Center

In the United Kingdom, stranded marine animal bodies usually have microplastic particles in their bodies, although it is unclear how this affects their overall health. But animals stranded with large amounts of debris in the belly are rare in the British coast. In the recent grounding, the garbage assortment in the whale's gut highlights the global problem of widespread marine pollution caused by various human activities.



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