Highlighting the threat to wildlife from the millions of tons of plastic that end up in oceans every year, Scientists said Thursday that a whale that washed up on the shore of Hawaii over the weekend was likely killed in part as a result of eating large volumes of fishing traps, fishing nets, plastic bags, and other marine debris.
The 120,000-pound, 56-foot-long animal’s body was discovered for the first time on Friday on a reef off Kauai then was washed ashore on Saturday due to high tide.
There were enough foreign objects in the whale’s intestinal tract opening, according to Kristi West, head of the University of Hawaii’s Health and Stranding Lab. In a press release issued by the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources, she said, “The presence of undigested fish and squid lends further evidence of a blockage.”
Six hagfish traps, seven types of fishing nets, two types of plastic bags, a light protector, a fishing line, and a float from a net were all found within the whale.
In the whale’s stomach, Researchers also found squid beaks, fish skeletons, and remains of other prey. West said that it’s the first known case of a sperm whale in Hawaii waters ingesting discarded fishing gear.
West’s team wasn’t able to examine it completely, as the whale’s stomach was so large. They believe there was other information that they were unable to obtain. But with the other organs they examined into, the researchers found nothing wrong.
They collected samples to screen for disease and they conduct other follow-up tests by collecting samples to screen for disease. And given that sperm whales can migrate thousands of miles in the ocean, it is unclear where the debris originated.
Marine debris harms numerous species. Earth each year, Scientists say that more than 3.5 million tons of plastic pollution is produced and about a quarter of that ends up around the water. Seabirds can consume as much plastic as 8% of their body weight. Sharks and other apex predators eat smaller fish that feed on microplastic, which can then endanger their own health. While endangered Hawaiian monk seals and green sea turtles can get caught in plastic nets and die.
Large whales can also be injured when they tangle in fishing nets or other ropes in the ocean, in addition to eating plastic. Whales may go starving as a result of the drag from debris, which makes it harder for them to consume and forces them to expend more energy swimming. Off the Big Island, marine mammal responders on Tuesday liberated a humpback whale that had become entangled in rope, a bundle of equipment, and two buoys.
In deep oceans across the world, you can find Sperm whales which are an endangered species. In the waters surrounding the Hawaiian Islands, from the Big Island in the south to Kure Atoll in the north, there were, according to a 2021 study from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, roughly 4,500 sperm whales.
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