Sperm Whales Found Full of Car Parts and Plastics
Fishing gear and an engine cover are just some of the startling contents found inside the stomachs of sperm whales that recently beached themselves on Germany’s North Sea coast.
The 13 sperm whales washed up near the German state of Schleswig-Holstein earlier this year, the latest in a series of whale strandings around the North Sea. So far, more than 30 sperm whales have been found beached since the start of the year in the U.K., the Netherlands, France, Denmark, and Germany.
After a necropsy of the whales in Germany, researchers found that four of the giant marine animals had large amounts of plastic waste in their stomachs. The garbage included a nearly 43-foot-long (13-meter-long) shrimp fishing net, a plastic car engine cover, and the remains of a plastic bucket, according to a press release from Wadden Sea National Park in Schleswig-Holstein.
However, “the marine litter did not directly cause the stranding,” says Ursula Siebert, head of the Institute for Terrestrial and Aquatic Wildlife Research at the University of Veterinary Medicine Hannover, whose team examined the sperm whales.
Instead, the researchers suspect that the whales died because the animals accidentally ventured into shallow seas.
Sperm whale swims near the Azores in the Atlantic Ocean. Photography by Brian Skerry, National Geographic Creative
. . . According to the WDC, whales and dolphins may strand for many reasons, such as excessive noise pollution from ships and drilling surveys or even subtle shifts in Earth’s magnetic field. In addition, pilot whales that beached off the coast of Scotland three years ago showed high levels of toxins from ocean pollution, which scientists linked to stress on their brains that may have caused disorientation.
Schleswig-Holstein environment minister Robert Habeck holds debris found inside beached sperm whales in a picture posted to Instagram. (Photo Robert Habeck,Instagram)
. . . Siebert adds that if the whales had survived, the garbage in their guts might have caused digestive problems down the line. At the time of death, the animals were in decent shape and, in addition to the debris, the scientists found thousands of squid beaks in the whales’ stomachs.
But when whales and dolphins ingest lots of marine litter, either accidentally or because they mistake the trash for prey, it can cause physical damage to their digestive systems. The trash may eventually give the animals the sensation of being full and reduce their instinct to feed, leading to malnutrition.
While the garbage may not have been lethal for these whales, “the plastic debris in their stomachs is a horrible indictment of humans,” adds Hal Whitehead, a whale researcher at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, Canada.
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Sperm Whales Found Full of Car Parts and Plastic