Plastic Bags and Balloon Discovered In Stranded Dolphin's Stomach Highlight Trash Problem

Kim Smith

Biologists found two plastic bags and pieces of a balloon in the stomach of a rare dolphin calf washed ashore on Tuesday on Fort Myers Beach.

The Fort Myers News-Press reported that the female rough-toothed dolphin was emaciated when beachgoers discovered it. Rescuers reportedly worked into the early morning hours on Wednesday trying to save the animal, but her health had deteriorated to the point that workers decided to euthanize her, Michelle Kerr of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said Saturday.

Generally, dolphins as young and as small as the one washed ashore are with their mothers, and there is no clear reason why this particular dolphin was alone.

"Marine mammals strand for a reason," FWC officials wrote on their Facebook account.

"Often the animals are sick or injured … There are many additional factors to consider, such as underlying illness, disease, and maternal separation."

But almost an even bigger issue than how to dolphin ended up stranded is the plastic items found in its stomach.

"This finding highlights the need to reduce single-use plastic and to not release balloons into the environment," the FWC said.

The FWC posted images of what they found in the dolphin's stomach, but did not say the trash was the reason the dolphin was sick or stranded. A post-mortem exam will reveal more about what happened to the young dolphin and how it ended up on the beach so far from where it should have been.

Thon Thamrongnawasawat, a marine biologist at Kasetsart University, said at least 300 marine animals, including whales, sea turtles, and dolphins, died every year in waters off Thailand's shores after ingesting plastic.

In December, researchers from the U.K., U.S., and Australia, looked for plastic in 102 sea turtles from the Atlantic ocean, the Pacific ocean, and the Mediterranean sea. Their study, published on the Wiley Online Library, revealed that all of the turtles had microplastic in their bellies.

These animals are reportedly eating the trash because it looks like food. A plastic bag floating in water can look awfully similar to a jellyfish.

Matthew Savoca, a marine biologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said single-use plastics, such as bags and bottles, are the worst, National Geographic reported.