By Hannah Strange
6 April 2018
A sperm whale found dead on the coast of Murcia in southern Spain was killed by gastric shock caused by ingesting 29 kilos (64 lb) of plastic waste, authorities in the region said on Friday.
The young male’s stomach and intestines were found to contain rubbish including plastic bags, raffia sacks, pieces of nets and ropes and even a plastic jerry can, marine experts said following an autopsy.
The whale, almost 10 metres (33 feet) in length and weighing more than six tonnes, was found dead on a beach in Cabo de Palos at the end of February.
The grim discovery of the cause of death has prompted Murcia’s regional government to launch a campaign against the dumping of plastic waste in the ocean.
Consuelo Rosauro, the director-general for the natural environment in the Murcian government, said plastic waste in the ocean had become one of the biggest threats to marine life around the the world in the last decade.
“Many animals get trapped in the rubbish or ingest great quantities of plastic which end up causing their death,” she said.
The plastic the whale ingested included a jerry can
An endangered species, the sperm whale is the largest toothed whale and has the biggest brain of any creature on earth.
Its natural diet is composed mostly of squid and its expected lifespan is roughly equivalent to a human’s, at around 70 years.
Experts at Murcia’s El Valle Wildlife Rescue Centre, which carried out the autopsy on the young whale, said that it had been unable to either digest or expel the plastics in its system, and as a result had suffered a fatal case of peritonitis.
The Murcia campaign will be conducted in collaboration with the European Environmental Association and the European Fund for Regional Development, and will involve both awareness-raising and beach cleaning operations. Waste collected will be catalogued and analysed to determine its origin.
Conservationists are increasingly raising the alarm over the quantity of waste in the world’s oceans, with eight million tonnes of plastics said to be entering the marine environment every year.
Sir David Attenborough used the latest series of BBC’s Blue Planet, broadcast at the end of last year, to warn that the oceans are turning into a “toxic soup” of industrial waste and plastic.
“Industrial pollution and the discarding of plastic waste must be tackled for the sake of all life in the ocean,” he said, revealing that the crews had found plastics everywhere they had filmed, “even in the most remote locations”.