Animals

This Beached Whale's Stomach Was Filled with Plastic Bags

Ingestion of man-made material was the probable cause of death of a whale stranded off Norway, an autopsy finds.

A whale in distress in Norwegian waters had to be euthanized on January 28, and now an autopsy of the animal has revealed that its stomach contained 30 plastic bags and a large amount of microplastics, the materials its likely cause of death.

The animal, a Cuvier's beaked whale, had become stranded multiple times off Sotra, an island west of Bergen, Norway. It was ultimately deemed too sick and malnourished to be helped and had to be put down by local authorities.

Later, the whale was given to the University of Bergen, where researchers studied its remains. They found the plastic bags in the cetacean's stomach and said the objects were the probable cause of death of the animal.

University of Bergen zoologist Terje Lislevand said the whale clearly would have been in great distress, its insides clogged. "The plastic was like a big ball in the stomach and filled it almost completely," Lislevand told Bergens Tidende.

Curvier's beaked whales, which can grow up to about 22 feet long (the whale off Norway was about 20 feet long), typically eat squid and various species of deep-sea fish. Lislevand told Bergens Tidende that the animal was likely the first whale of the species to be documented off Norway.

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The whale is not, however, the first to be found with plastic filling its stomach. A gray whale off Seattle had the same problem in 2010; a humpback whale was found with microplastics in its stomach in 2012; and last year 13 sperm whales off Germany were found to have ingested plastic waste and even car parts.

Meanwhile, as Seeker reported in October 2016, plastics have found their way into a wide range of animals that live at 1,000- to 2,000-foot depths.

The problem is likely to grow more widespread, some experts have asserted. A January 2016 report estimated that by 2050 the word's oceans would hold more discarded plastics than fish, when measured by weight. And a November 2015 study on American refuse found that while trash from the coastlines represents most of the man-made material that ends up in the ocean, even deep-inland waterways can be pathways to the sea for garbage.

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