Plastic pollution in our oceans has become an issue that can’t be avoided any longer. With the number of whales dying from plastic pollution on the rise (not to mention many other marine animals), we must face our plastic addiction head on.
Plastic pollution is not only impacting our waters and marine life, but also the human food chain, and our overall health. How do we plan on living healthfully if we treat our oceans with so much disrespect?
We are now producing over 300 million tons of plastic every year, half of which is for single use. More than 8 million tons of plastic is dumped into our oceans every year (1).
Plastic bags are one of the worst, with around 500 billion plastic bags being used annually. More than one million bags are used every minute.
Once plastic pollution ends up in the ocean, it becomes entangled on the bodies of marine mammals, or ends up in their stomachs.
Sperm Whale Found with 64 Pounds of Plastic Waste in Stomach
A sperm whale was found washed ashore dead after swallowing 64 pounds of plastic debris. The sperm whale was found dead on the Murcian coast in southern Spain in late February. It wasn’t until early April that they discovered the culprit – plastic waste, ropes, pieces of net, and other debris lodged in its stomach (2).
The death of the sperm whale was a shocking reminder for how much work needs to be done in reducing our consumption of plastics (especially those that are single-use). Since the discovery, authorities in Murcia launched a campaign to clean up its beaches.
“The presence of plastic in the ocean and oceans is one of the greatest threats to the conservation of wildlife throughout the world, as many animals are trapped in the trash or ingest large quantities of plastics that end up causing their death,” Mucia’s general director of environment, Consuelo Rosauro said in a statement.
The necropsy results, released last week, listed some of the items scientists found stuck in its stomach and intestines: plastic bags, pieces of net, a plastic water container. The waste caused the whales digestive system to rupture given they couldn’t digest the waste they swallowed.
Officials are concerned, because not only are sperm whales endangered, but it is a grave reminder of the massive plastic pollution problem we have on our hands.
Other Whales Dying From Plastic Pollution
This male sperm whale isn’t the only one affected by plastic pollution. In 2016, fishing gear and an engine cover from a car were found inside the stomachs of sperm whales that beached themselves on Germany’s North Sea coast (3).
After a necropsy of the whales in Germany, researchers found that four of the thirteen sperm whales had large amounts of plastic waste in their stomach. The garbage included a 43-foot-long shrimp fishing net, a plastic engine car cover, and the remains of a plastic bucket (4).
The researchers suspect the whales died because they accidentally ventured into shallow seas chasing squid. Once they got lost, the whales became disoriented and died. Ursula Siebert, head of the Institute for Terrestrial and Aquatic Wildlife Research at the University of Veterinary Medicine Hannover, added that if the whales had survived, the garbage in their stomachs would have caused digestive problems down the line.
When whales and dolphins ingest marine litter, either accidentally or because they mistaken the trash for prey, it causes physical damage to their digestive systems. The undigestible litter gives the animals the sensation of being full, which reduces their instinct to feed, and leads to malnutrition, and eventually death.
In 2011, a young whale was found floating dead off the Greek island of Mykonos. The whales stomach was so distended that biologists thought the animal swallowed a giant squid. However, when the whales stomach was dissected, nearly 100 plastic bags and other pieces of debris were found (5).
These aren’t the only cases of whales dying from plastic pollution. Check out the rest below:
– Dead whale found to have 30 plastic bags in its stomach (link here)
– Plastic kills sperm whale in Davao (link here)
– Beached whale in Spain dies from ingesting plastic waste (link here)|
– Cuvier’s beaked whale had 4kg of plastic bags in stomach (link here)
And these aren’t the only marine animals suffering from plastic pollution. Many others, including seabirds, fish, dolphins and more, are affected by our lack of care for plastic trash.
Plastic Pollution Only Getting Worse
A report released march 2018 found that over 70% of marine litter is non-degradable plastic. This figure is expected to triple within a decade. In fact, marine experts believe the total weight of plastic in our oceans could outweigh fish in the world’s oceans by 2050 (6).
To cope with this dilemma, many countries are now phasing out single-use plastic bags typically seen in grocery stores. Below is a map of where countries are at in phasing out low-density polyethylene plastic bags (7):
– Green indicates plastic bags are banned
– Yellow indicates a tax on some plastic bags
– Orange indicates a voluntary tax agreement
– Purple indicates a partial tax or ban at a regional level
How To Reduce Your Consumption of Plastic
There are many ways you can reduce your consumption of plastic. Here are a few simple steps you can take today:
– Say no to straws – instead, purchase a reusable stainless steel or glass straw and carry it around with you
– Invest in reusable produce bags like these ones
– Buy boxes instead of plastic bottles (for instance, like laundry detergent, etc.)
– Buy from bulk bins (and bring your reusable glass jars!)
– Reuse glass containers
– Bring your own container if you’re going out to eat somewhere
– Don’t use plasticware
– Use cloth diapers
– Give up gum, gum is made of a synthetic rubber, aka. plastic
– Use matches instead of disposable plastic lighters
– Invest in reusable bags to bring your groceries home
– Use a razor with replaceable blades instead of a disposable razor
Also, if you live next to a beach, go take a trip and pick up the trash! We need to help out our oceans a little bit better – and it all starts with a little bit of effort.