Plastic, rope, gloves and other assorted trash totalling around 100 kilograms has been found inside a sperm whale that washed up on a beach in the UK over the weekend.
The sperm whale is believed to have become stranded on the sand at Seilebost Beach on the Isle of Harris in west Scotland last Thursday, remaining there for more than two days before workers from the Scottish Marine Animal Strandings Scheme (SMASS) could attend to conduct an autopsy and bury the corpse.
The sperm whale was estimated at around 14 metres in length and weighing around 26,000kg.
Because whales are so well insulated, they retain body heat, even when outside temperatures are near freezing.
This means they decompose quickly and gases can build up inside.
When SMASS workers pierced the skin of the beached sperm whale with a knife its guts “exploded” out of its carcass, according to a video posted on the SMASS Facebook page.
But that’s not what horrified the workers tasked with disposing of the carcass.
“In this whale’s stomach was approximately 100 kilograms of marine debris — a whole range of plastic including sections of net, bundles of rope, plastic cups, bags, gloves, packing straps and tubing,” SMASS said in a Facebook post. “All this material was in a huge ball in the stomach, and some of it looked like it had been there for some time.
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SMASS reported the sperm whale wasn’t actually in bad condition – aside from being dead – and may have barely noticed it had a collection of trash equivalent to three adult labradors rolling around inside it.
“While it is certainly plausible that this amount of debris was a factor in its live stranding, we actually couldn’t find evidence that this had impacted or obstructed the intestines,” SMASS said.
“This amount of plastic in the stomach is nonetheless horrific, must have compromised digestion and serves to demonstrate, yet again, the hazards that marine litter and lost or discarded fishing gear can cause to marine life. It is also perhaps a good example that this is a global issue caused by a whole host of human activities.”
Local resident Dan Parry shared his thoughts on a Facebook page set up to highlight debris washing up on nearby Luskentyre Beach.
“Every day when we walk along the beach, we pick up debris, but sadly we rarely see anyone else picking anything up. Debris in our oceans is everyone’s problem – the fishing industry need to do better, but equally, we all need to do more,” he wrote.
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The whale was buried on the beach because sand dunes made it hard to transport the carcass, and towing it out to sea was also not an option.
“If you go to the beach today, there should be almost no evidence that there was a large sperm whale necropsy undertaken there this weekend,” SMASS wrote.
The sperm whale is one of three whales found beached with sizeable hauls of trash inside them this year.
In April, a whale washed up on an Italian beach with 22kg of trash in its stomach.
Another whale found the month before in the Philippines had swallowed 40kg of trash.