A new study published in the Marine Pollution Bulletin has revealed that alarming levels of plastic have been found in whales and dolphins that have washed up dead in Greece over a 20-year period. Found in their stomachs, the trash can lead to slow death of animals. “A 5.3-metre (17-foot) young sperm whale beached on the Aegean island of Mykonos had swallowed 135 plastic items weighing a total of 3.2 kilograms (7 pounds). This blocked its stomach, grossly distending it, while the animal itself was emaciated and had starved to death,” a researcher said.
The organizers of the study say this was the first on such a scale in the Mediterranean and found that sperm whales were also the species worst affected by plastic ingestion.
Sperm whales being endangered species already are at further risk due to noise pollution from oil and gas exploration.
“Six out of ten specimens were found to have consumed plastics,” according to Alexandros Frantzis, scientific director of the Athens-based Pelagos Cetacean Research Institute that conducted the research.
“The amount of (debris) we found is very high, and should set off an alarm,” he told The Associated Press. “It is now something common. … It’s not just that some random animal swallowed plastic.”
Frantzis is a prominent whale and dolphin expert known for first linking fatal whale beachings to the use of military sonar by warships.
In a separate incident outside the scope of the Greek study, an 8-meter (26-foot) pregnant sperm whale was found dead off Sardinia in March with 22 kilograms (48.5 pounds) of plastic in its stomach.
Frantzis said bags pose a huge problem because, while not more lethal than other plastic items, they are so widely used.
“None of us is innocent,” he said. “Without our knowledge or intent, some of (the plastic that is swallowed by whales or dolphins) may have passed through our hands. We may even have disposed of it in the trash, and it may have been blown away from an open landfill. These things travel, they have no borders.”
Frantzis said the solution is to stop the “crazy and useless” production of plastic.
“Don’t buy, don’t use (it) and exert pressure to stop the production,” he said.