Plastic Bags Fatal for Marine Mammals

According to a recent autopsy on a number of stranded dead whales in the Mediterranean, scientists from the American Cetacean Society determined that plastic bags and debris most likely caused their deaths.

While examining stomach contents of stranded sperm whales in Greece, we found plastic debris in four out of eight whales. For some of them this is a fatal mistake. The most dramatic and extreme case so far was that of a male calf only 5.3m long. This poor whale was found floating dead very close to the coasts of the famous Mykonos Island in the Cyclades in the Aegean Sea. When we saw the carcass it was obvious that something had gone wrong with that whale because it was very emaciated. However, it was difficult even to imagine what we were about to discover while performing the necropsy. Reaching the stomach of a sperm whale is not an easy task, even for a young whale. However, in that particular case the stomach was pretty visible and almost came out by itself, just after the first cuts on the whale’s body. It was disproportionately big and full for such a young whale. We started imagining that we might be in front of the first record of a giant squid in the Mediterranean Sea… What else could be such a big prey item in the stomach of a sperm whale? The reality was truly disappointing, and above all very shameful for our own “wise” species: the Homo supposed to be “sapiens” (i.e.with wisdom).

All our “civilization” was in the stomach of this whale. Tens of big compacted plastic bags used for garbage or construction materials, all kinds of plastic cover for anything we can buy in a supermarket, plastic ropes, pieces of nets, even a plastic bag with full address and telephone number of a souvlaki restaurant in the town of Thessaloniki (located some 500 km further north). Unfortunately, the whale could not call them to complain about the damage caused by their product.” – The Difficult Art of Coexisting With Humans in a Crowded Sea; by Giuseppe Notarbartolo di Sciara, Alexandros Frantzis, Luke Rendel.

The full article can be found in the  JOURNAL OF THE AMERICAN CETACEAN SOCIETY Spring 2012 Volume 41, Number ; page 30.

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