Marine Debris Causes Whale Deaths

Sperm Whale by Franco Banfi

Sperm Whale by Franco Banfi (Sourced from National Museum of Natural History’s Natures Best Photography, Ocean Views

A recent paper published in the Marine Pollution Bulletin reports on the results of the cause of death of two sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus) stranded in 2008 along the coast of California.  The cause of death was a result of the ingestion of large amounts of fishing net scraps, rope and other plastic debris that was found in their stomachs.  One animal had a ruptured stomach, and the other was emaciated.  Gastric impaction was suspected as the cause of both deaths with over 134 different types of nets found in these animals varying from 10cm² to over 16m².  The material was ingested from the surface as debris. 

This case shows how the estimated 7 billion tones of rubbish that is entering the world’s oceans every year are impacting marine life. The stranding and subsequent deaths of the two male sperm whales are a reminder of the devastating effects that marine debris has on our oceanic environment.

Full article: Jacobsen, J. K., Massey, L., Gulland, F. (2010) Fatal ingestion of floating net debris by two sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus). Marine Pollution Bulletin 60: 765-767.