Environmental conservationists have expressed their “anger” after 16kg of plastic waste was found inside the stomach of a beached whale.
The cetacean, a female Cuvier’s beaked whale measuring a little over 5 meters in length, washed up on a beach in Messanges in south-west France, which is on the Atlantic coast.
The whale’s partially decomposed corpse was discovered by passers by on Saturday, May 8, and an autopsy carried out by environmental conservation groups Pelagis Observatory and Itsas Arima concluded that its ingestion of an enormous quantity of plastic products led to its death.
These products include shopping bags, packets of pasta, and crisp wrappers.
Willy Dabin, Pelagis’ stranding network coordinator, explained, “This waste lines the walls of the stomach and intestines, which can cause blockages and prevent nutrients from entering the blood.” (via TVA Nouvelles).
Pascal Ducasse, a Pelagis correspondent, described his “anger” at the situation, and said it is “abnormal for an animal to die like that.”
“This is the first time that I have seen this in seven years of activity,” he added (via France Bleu).
The autopsy found that the whale had been suffering from a parasitic condition that affected its kidneys, and which would have had a significant impact on its hunting activities.
Cuvier’s beaked whales are known to be active hunters, diving thousands of feet below the surface to seek out various species of squid, deep-sea fish and other prey, but the experts believe that its illness would have rendered this particular animal incapable of searching for food in its usual manner.
Instead, it would have fed on whatever it could find close to the water’s surface.
Pelagis says that most species of sea creatures are affected by waste, with turtles often mistaking plastic products for jellyfish.
However, cetaceans tend to ingest plastics and other waste through bio-accumulation, where they unwittingly consume prey that has itself ingested plastic.
“A dolphin knows how to recognize a piece of plastic unlike a turtle for example,” Itsas Arima explained in a post on Facebook.
“But in this case, how can you explain that there were so many in her stomach and fed directly? We found that the animal was skinny and had a major parasitic condition that weakens it, probably preventing it from continuing to feed itself normally.
“So she backed up on what was around her and he came across… our trash.”
Though the whale may have died as a result of its illness alone, the experts believe that its consumption of the plastic significantly accelerated its death.