Wednesday, April 18, 2018
Sperm Whale Dies from Eating Trash
Plastic decomposes very slowly in seawater. Patches of floating debris can be found in all the world's oceans. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is estimated to contain 87,000 tons of plastic and other debris such as discarded fishing nets and equipment. The 2011 tsunami that destroy the Fukushima nuclear facility alone swept 5 million tons of debris into the Pacific. In a study published this month, researchers say the patch is 4 to 16 times larger than previously estimated and is growing exponentially. Once thought to be a region primarily of microplastic debris, it actually contains larger pieces of trash. Once these larger pieces breakdown in microplastic particles, it will be much more difficult to remove from the water. This chart shows the increase in plastic trash concentration from 1962 to 2018.
Sperm whales were almost hunted to extinction in the 19th century for their oil and ambergris. The peak of sperm whale hunting occurred in the 1840s and 1960s. They have been fully protected but international convention since 1985, but whale recovery has been slow, especially in the South Pacific where breeding age males suffered a heavy death toll. They are currently listed as vulnerable by the IUCN. The whales dying of trash ingestion has been detected before. In 2008, two sperm whales stranded in northern California. One died of a ruptured stomach and the other of gastric impaction. Both had large amounts of debris in their stomach included discarded nets and fishing gear. One hundred and thirty four different types of plastic nets were counted. No longer hunted, an has found yet another way to kill whales.