PARIS (AFP) – Blue whales consume up to 10 million pieces of microplastic every day, research estimated recently, suggesting that the omnipresent pollution poses a bigger danger to the world’s largest animal than previously thought.
The tiny fragments of plastic have been found everywhere from the deepest oceans to the highest mountains, and even inside human organs and blood.
Now a modelling study published in the journal Nature Communications estimated how much is being ingested by whales.
A United States (US)-led research team put tags on 191 blue, fin and humpback whales that live off the coast of California to observe their movements.
“It’s basically like an Apple Watch, just on the back of a whale,” said researcher at California State University, Fullerton and the study’s first author Shirel Kahane-Rapport.
The whales mostly fed at depths of between 50 to 250 metres, which is home to the “greatest concentration of microplastics in the water column”, Kahane-Rapport told AFP.
Under the most likely scenario, the blue whales ate up to 10 million microplastic pieces a day.
Over the 90-120 day annual feeding season, that represents over a billion pieces a year.
The largest animal ever to live on Earth is also likely the biggest microplastic consumer, eating up to 43.6 kilogrammes a day, the study said.
Humpback whales were estimated to eat around four million pieces a day.
It was found that 99 per cent of the microplastics entered the whales because they were already inside their prey.