A whale perished in Thailand after local authorities failed in their rescue efforts. Vomiting five plastic bags, and with 80 more in its stomach, the small male pilot whale, with weak vitals, washed ashore in a canal bordering Malaysia. A local veterinary team attempted a last-minute rescue but was unsuccessful in the effort, according to the Straits Times.
A Facebook posting by Thailand’s Department of Marine and Coastal Resources details the effort in pictures, although those unfamiliar with the Thai or Siamese language may find the annotations difficult to parse. Even without understanding the accompanying text, the message is very clear.
A translation provided by sources indicates that the post says that the on-site veterinary medical team attempted “to help stabilise its illness but finally the whale died” on Friday afternoon. The total weight of the bags inside of the stomach of the whale was discovered after an autopsy to be 8 kilograms or 18 pounds.
Marine biologist and teacher at Kasetsart University, Thon Thamrongnawasawat, stated that it was impossible for the whale in question to have successfully eaten and digested food after the bags caused a blockage in its digestive system, putting it succinctly: “If you have 80 plastic bags in your stomach, you die.”
More than 300 ocean-dwelling animals die every year in Thai waters due to the problem of ingesting and choking on plastic wastage, according to Thon.
With the post having been shared a few thousand times and social media outrage over the storied death of a magnificent creature, the question of whether or not these continued tragedies will amount to any semblance of economic, industrial, or political change to reduce waste remains to be seen. In the United Kingdom, measures to cut down on plastic bags by charging customers for them seems to have ameliorated the problem somewhat, according to the Independent, and other countries in the West prepared to follow suit, suggesting at least some positive movement on the subject is underway.
While discussion surrounding microplastics has been on a precipitous rise lately, with recent research elaborated upon by The Guardian illustrating that previous educated guess of over five trillion particles of microplastic in the ocean has been a drastic underestimate, the threat from traditional plastic waste in the form of plastic shopping bags has disappeared from the public radar. While microplastic debris does infect the ocean, harming sea life from all hierarchies in the food chain from plankton to human beings who are being contaminated from their own industrial waste, plastic bags are responsible for the tragedy seen in Thailand and are killing whales, dolphins, sea turtles, seagulls, and albatrosses in record numbers.
Environmental activist groups and conservationists estimate, as reported by 1 Bag at a Time, that a dump-truck sized load of plastic is tossed indiscriminately into the ocean every second, and that there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish by the year 2020.