Sperm Whales Washed Up In Germany Had Plastic Waste In Their Stomachs

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Beached Sperm Whales in Germany (Photo Credit: Lee Smith via Greenpeace.org)

In January and February of 2016, a total of 13 young sperm whales washed up on the beach near the town of Tönning in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany. An autopsy revealed that the whales had all died of heart failure. The researchers believe that the young bulls, all between 10-15 years old, may have entered the North Sea by mistake. Since the sea floor here is too shallow for these deep sea dwellers, it caused the whales to become disoriented and perish.

While that is certainly sad, what is worse is the amount of plastic the scientists discovered inside the mammals’ stomachs. Among the man-made trash mistakenly ingested by the young whales was the remains of a 13-meter long and 1.2-meter wide safety net used for shrimp fishing. The scientists also found a 70-centimeter-long plastic cover from a car engine and some sharp-edged pieces from a plastic bucket.

Environment Minister Robert Habeck (left) and Gerd Meurs shear show waste parts that were found in sperm whale stomachs. Photo Credit: Claussen / LKN.SH

Though the plastic was not responsible for the death of the sperm whales, the discovery is a harsh reminder of the harmful consequences of our plastic ridden society. Ursula Siebert, head of the Institute for Terrestrial and Aquatic Wildlife Research at the University of Veterinary Medicine Hannover, whose team examined the sperm whales, says, "If the whales had survived, the garbage in their guts might have caused digestive problems down the line." Also, as the whales eat more trash, it may give them the false comfort of being full and reduce their desire to feed, resulting in malnutrition.

Sperm whales are not the only marine animals hurt by the increasing amount of plastic in our oceans. Sea turtles also mistake the brightly colored trash for food. As pieces of the man-made material get stuck in the animal's digestive tract, they result in a build-up of gas causing what scientists refer to as "floater syndrome." As the name indicates, it means that the turtles can no longer dive deep into the ocean to seek food. Instead, they just float on the surface of the water and if not rescued in time, starve to death.

According to researchers from the University of Queensland, in the past six to seven years, the number of marine life species ingesting or getting entangled in plastic has increased almost three-fold, from 250 to 700. The scientists warn that even the tiny plankton, the food source for many marine animals, is consuming the trash.

Sea turtles with "floaters syndrome" (Photo Credit: University of Queensland)

Dr. Qamar Schuyler from the UQ School of Biological Sciences says: “Unfortunately, what this means is that if the bottom of the food chain is eating plastic, it bio-accumulates up the food chain, and there have been several studies that have looked at food fish – fish that we go out, and purchase – and even these fish have plastics in their intestines.”

If the possibility of consuming seafood filled with plastic does not serve a wake-up call to change our careless habits, we don't know what will!

Resources: Telegraph.co.uk, Greenpeace.org, Dailymail.co.uk

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  • zanto
    zantoover 1 year
    am wanting to be an environmentalist (someone who studies nature) I am in the W.W.F after all (World Wildlife Fund)!!
    • darklight_rp
      darklight_rpabout 2 years
      Oh no!! Poor whales. I wish polution would just disapear!
      • andrewliu1003
        andrewliu1003about 2 years
        Sometimes I just feel bad for humans 🤷🏻‍♀️
        • ashdog3131
          ashdog3131over 2 years
          THE BOYCOTT That is sad we should not harm wild life nor pollute it is not good for the environment. I propose for a boycott until people start doing what’s right. I think we should stop buying or following types of laws that are not fair until are voices are heard. From what ever place you stand right now! Because I know it not right. Soon if this keeps up are whole world will crumble. Animal and Animal dying followed by are kind! So start today by giving this a thumbs we can change the way are earth is treated and finally be able to have good eco system!
          • bday_summergirl
            bday_summergirlover 2 years
            That's so sad I want to cry! Why do people just throw trash is the ocean!?
            • wolfy_blue
              wolfy_blueover 2 years
              Why do people do this?! They're going to go extinct!! This is so cruel!!
            • gold3nglare
              gold3nglareover 2 years
              This. Is. Un. Ac. Cept. Ta. Ble. Period. We need to do our part to protect the planet and wildlife. I stopped using water to brush my teeth, and I started to unplug things that nobody is using. I'm doing my part for the environment. I don't litter, I pick p trash, I recycle. We need to ALL do our part to save ourselves and nature!~ Boooo humans who don't care! Booooooooo!
            • dream_beyond
              dream_beyondover 2 years
              Gosh! Some humans don't care!
              • tigerlil92
                tigerlil92over 2 years
                I don’t know what to say besides STOP THROWING GARBAGE IN THE OCEAN PEOPLE it would help marine animals a hole lot! P.s sorry if that sounded mean or harsh.
                • lunabunny
                  lunabunnyalmost 3 years
                  # SAVE THE MARINE ANIMALS!!