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Editor’s Note: My email box alerted me to the following story about a sperm whale that washed up and could not be saved. Using the search term “sperm whales and plastic bags,” a paid ad on Google rose to the top. It’s an advertisement for “Bag the Ban,” a campaign to save the plastic shopping bag. It’s our guess that the backers of this ad don’t give a hoot about the end result of one-use plastic bags–the innocent deaths of marine mammal, which is on the rise. This link provides easy information about the sperm whale: http://www.fish-journal.com/2011/11/sperm-whale.html. Several references follow the Daily Mail piece.
From the Daily Mail
An injured sperm whale that drifted ashore on the Belgian coast has perished before it could be rescued.
Experts believe the whale was likely making a seasonal migration and ended up in the North Sea by accident.
The majestic creature measured 13 metres – 45 feet – and weighed more than 30 tonnes.
Jan Haelters, of the Natural Science Institute, told the Belgium VRT network that ‘it is treacherous out here for sperm whales since the North Sea is not deep enough.’
Despite the freezing cold on the windy beach, it soon became an attraction for local schools and tourists.
The whale was still alive when it drifted ashore early on Wednesday morning but scientists were unable to treat its injuries and it died.
Its death comes at a time when sperm whales as a species are at great risk from the damage done by humans to the environment.
Although we no longer hunt sperm whales for the oil in their heads, the pollution we dump in the sea – particularly plastic bags – affects them more than any other creature.
Chromium – a deadly carcinogen that causes lung cancer in humans – is absorbed by sperm whales passing chemical plants because they breathe so deeply at the surface.
The result can cause changes to immune systems and fertility, creating birth defects similar to Down’s syndrome in humans.
In another recent and tragic case, a group of seven sperm whales were stranded on a Mediterranean beach after being driven into shallow waters, possibly by military sonar exercises.
There they were unable to feed on squid and began to dehydrate, since they obtain liquid from food.
As their starving bodies began to break down fat, the pollutants they had absorbed from the ocean were released. These included heavy metals such as mercury, lead and cadmium and even fire-retardants used on modern furnishings.
When the carcasses of the poisoned animals were dissected, scientists found an unusual amount of plastic – including bags – in their stomachs.
Excerpt from Oceana
Sperm whales typically feed on squid, sometimes diving more than a mile below the ocean’s surface to find food. But plastic trash is becoming more and more a part of the whales’ diets. Each year, sperm whales eat more than 100 million tons of seafood using suction, which makes them more vulnerable to ingesting plastic. And because sperm whales are at the top of the food chain, they are the most likely to be affected by pollution.
Stranded sperm whales are often found with their stomachs filled with plastic, which prevents them from eating the squid that they really need while also releasing toxins that can poison the animals. Sperm whales are already vulnerable because of historical whaling, so it is important to protect them and other marine life by taking steps to prevent plastics from entering the ocean.
- Last December, seven sperm whales washed up on an Italian beach — all of them dead from plastic (and, let’s be fair, other debris like rope, tin cans and other containers) in their stomachs.
- In 2008, it was a dead sperm whale near Point Reyes, California. Its stomach contents? An astonishing 450 pounds of fishing net, some kind of mesh, braided rope, plastic bags and one plastic comb.