Pregnant whale discovered dead with 49 pounds of plastic in her stomach
Last week, the body of a sperm whale washed up on the shores of Sardinia, Italy.
The mammal, measuring eight metres (26.2 feet) long, was transferred by local fire brigades to a research facility, where veterinarians and researchers from Sassari and the University of Padua discovered that she was pregnant and, perhaps even more tragically, had died with 22 kg (49 lbs) of litter in her stomach.
"It was dramatic to find the fetus ... we felt bad already at that point," recalled Mattia Leone, a marine biologist who was present for the post-mortem exam. "But then when we opened the stomach and saw all the plastic, we realised, yet again, we were bearing witness to this very worrisome, sad situation."
It is not clear yet whether or not the plastic in her stomach was instrumental in the whale's death, but it almost certainly contributed to the malnourishment and demise of her calf.
Luca Bittau, the president of the SEAME (Scientific Education and Activities in the Marine Environment) group, told CNN that the poor creature's stomach contained "garbage bags ... fishing nets, lines, tubes, the bag of a washing machine liquid still identifiable, with brand and barcode ... and other objects no longer identifiable".
"She was pregnant and had almost certainly aborted before (she) beached," he said. "The foetus was in an advanced state of composition."
"This spermwhale was found dead in porto cervo in Sardinia: in the belly she had a fetus and 22 kg of plastic... are there still people who say these are not important problems?" Sergio Costa, Italy's environment minister, wrote on Facebook. "For me yes, and they are priority."
"Marine Litter (the waste at sea) affects all marine life, not only Italy, of course, but every country in the world has the duty to apply policies to fight it. We have used in a carefree way the 'comfort' of disposables in recent years, and today we are paying the consequences - indeed, especially the animals."
According to a WWF study released last year, more than 95 percent of the waste in the Mediterranean Sea and on its beaches is made of plastic. Waste levels in tourist areas - such as Sardinia - are especially bad, as litter left by visitors (combined with poor local environmental management) is to blame.
The area where the whale was discovered is quite a popular tourist spot, as there is a rich marine life presence around 20 miles or so off the Sardinian coast. Known as the Caprera Canyon, the area is home to many species of whales and three different species of dolphin.
Unfortunately, if incidents like this recent one continue, we may cease to see areas like this. In fact, if we do not act soon, we may eventually wipe out all ocean life entirely.
Leone disclosed that SEAME wants to preserve this whale's skeleton in order to educate others on the impact that people are having on the ocean, and to raise awareness on the impact that plastic and other waste is having on wildlife in our seas and oceans.