HONOLULU (AP) – A whale that washed ashore in Hawaii over the weekend likely died in part because it ate large volumes of fishing traps, fishing nets, plastic bags and other marine debris, scientists said yesterday, highlighting the threat to wildlife from the millions of tonnes of plastic that ends up in oceans every year.
The body of the 17-metre-long, 54,431-kilogramme animal was first noticed on a reef off Kauai last Friday. High tide brought it ashore last Saturday.
Director of the University of Hawaii’s Health and Stranding Lab Kristi West said there were enough foreign objects in the opening of the whale’s intestinal tract to block food.
“The presence of undigested fish and squid lends further evidence of a blockage,” she said in a news release from the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources.
The whale’s stomach contained six hagfish traps, seven types of fishing net, two types of plastic bags, a light protector, fishing line and a float from a net. Researchers also found squid beaks, fish skeleton and remains of other prey in the whale’s stomach.
It’s the first known case of a sperm whale in Hawaii waters ingesting discarded fishing gear, West said.
The whale’s stomach was so large West’s team wasn’t able to examine it completely. They suspect there was more material they weren’t able to recover.
Researchers found nothing wrong with other organs they examined. They collected samples to screen for disease and conduct other follow-up tests.
Sperm whales travel across thousands of miles in the ocean so it’s not clear where the debris came from.
Scientists said over 35 million tonnes of plastic pollution is produced around earth each year and about a quarter of that ends up around the water.