Back in August of 2014, a 45-foot-long young female sei whale was spotted swimming up the Elizabeth River, a 6-mile-long tidal estuary at the southern end of Chesapeake Bay. The species, which is listed as endangered, is normally found in the deep waters of the world’s second largest ocean, the Atlantic.
Biologists from the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center Stranding Response Team received a notification back in August regarding the sighting and dispatched their team, which followed the whale for several days in an attempt to protect it from a fatal collision with a ship navigating the busy, industrial tributary. The aquarium’s research coordinator, Susan Barco, was quoted by National Geographic as having said that the whale “was in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
The seemingly disoriented whale was found dead a few days later. After a necropsy was performed on the young whale’s carcass, a shard of black plastic was discovered. The sharp plastic had lacerated its stomach, which had prevented the animal from feeding. It was also determined that the whale had a fractured vertebrae as a result of having been struck by a ship. Barco described the whale’s demise as a “very long and painful decline.”
The plastic shard behind the whale’s death was identified as a broken piece of a DVD case. National Geographic reported that the marine mammal had most likely swallowed the debris while feeding from the surface. The ingestion of plastic by marine animals is a widespread problem, particularly for turtles and seabirds who easily confuse the plastic debris for food. Once swallowed, the indigestible plastic can obstruct the stomach or intestine and lead to starvation and death. As the amount of trash in the sea increases, so do the risks to the marine life inhabiting it.
The sei whale’s death could have been prevented were the plastic disposed of properly, a point which Barco iterated when she said that “it was a preventable death.”
“It makes me very sad that a piece of plastic that was not disposed of properly ended up killing a whale.”
Scientists are still trying to determine the impact marine debris has on cetaceans. A study last year found that 56 percent of cetacean species had been documented having ingested marine debris. The rates of ingestion in the study were as high as 31 percent in some populations of whales, dolphins, and porpoises.
In a report published on September 25, 2014, the Inquisitr indicated that plastic production “has increased by a staggering 50 percent” in the past 30 years and that there’s a floating garbage patch the size of Wales in the remote Pacific. Also, an alarming 90 percent of seabirds found dead on the beach have ingested plastic.
What do you think, is it time to wean ourselves away from plastic?