Whale Found with Nearly 50lbs of Plastic in its Stomach

People rarely notice how much plastic is impacting the environment because we use it in our everyday lives.

Children unpack their Christmas gifts, and their parents toss the little bits and pieces in the trash. Athletes drink Gatorade during their games and leave the bottles courtside. There are even the countless amounts of plastic wasted on iPhone chargers that rarely last longer than a few weeks. Despite recycling efforts in certain districts, plastic is still thrown in the trash or left outside in the streets. It may not be a big deal to you, but according to Plastic-Pollution, every year eight million tons of plastic end up in our oceans. Imagine how this could easily kill a full-grown sperm whale, which weighs nearly 65 tons.

Several days ago, a pregnant whale washed up on the coast Sardinia, Italy. She was in such bad health that the baby she was carrying didn’t survive. This case is very similar to the dead whale that was found on the coast of the Philippines. A few weeks ago this whale was found with 88 pounds of plastic inside its stomach. Museum founder, Darrell Blatchley, led a team to recover the whale’s body and told People, “In the last 10 years we have recovered 61 whales and dolphins of which 57 have died due to fishing nets, dynamite fishing and plastic garbage. Four were pregnant.” When the whales are found they are severely emaciated, and when scientists analyze the bodies they find them to be malnourished and dehydrated.

Whales aren’t the only marine animals that are affected by our plastic use. According to UNESCO, “Plastic debris causes the deaths of more than a million seabirds every year, as well as more than 100,000 marine mammals.” These animals choke and suffocate when they consume or get tangled in plastic waste. The Albatross is a major victim of this chain of plastic life because their environment is surrounded by it. These huge birds can fly for miles without touching land to search for food. They rear their young for several months, so providing food for them is a constant issue with plastic getting into their diets. “One study found that 97.5% of chicks had plastic in their stomachs. An estimated 5 tons of plastic are fed to chicks each year at Midway Atoll,” finds Smithsonian Ocean. These items range from lighters, plastic bottle lids, fishnets, and baby toys.

idway Atoll, where these photos were taken, is more than 2,000 miles from the nearest land.

Credit: Chris Jordan

There are even large patches of plastic floating in the ocean that are as big as the state of Texas. Many countries have enacted laws to ban single-use plastic, and in certain areas fisherman are allowed to recover plastic for proper disposal. However, even in areas with recycling systems, very few water plastics are actually recyclable and end up in landfills [or back in the ocean].

Chemicals from microplastics are also of great concern. Despite scientific uncertainty, Tox Town explains, “There is concern that microplastics could harm human health as they move through the marine food web. Microplastics both absorb and give off chemicals and harmful pollutants.” These plastics that stem from toothpaste tubes or toys can seep into the soil and eventually join agricultural or storm runoff into ocean water.plastic-trash-in-oceans-and-waterways.jpg

Plastic is cheap to make but because we find it so easily disposable, it is also our biggest challenge. Here are several eye-opening facts about plastic use over the past decade from Earthday:

  1. Half a million straws are used in the world every day.

  2. It is estimated that four trillion plastic bags are used worldwide annually. Only one percent of plastic bags are returned for recycling. Americans throw away 100 billion plastic bags annually—that’s 207 bags per person!

  3. Humans buy about one million plastic bottles per minute in total. Only about 23 percent of plastic bottles are recycled within the U.S.

  4. 500 billion disposable cups are consumed every year. Americans alone throw away 25 billion Styrofoam coffee cups every year. Styrofoam cannot be completely recycled. Most of the Styrofoam disposed of today will still be present in landfills 500 years from now.

  5. Single-use plastics frequently do not make it to a landfill or recycling center. A full 32 percent of the 78 million tons of plastic packaging produced annually is left to flow into our oceans; the equivalent of pouring one garbage truck of plastic into the ocean every minute. This is expected to increase to two per minute by 2030 and four per minute by 2050. By 2050, this could mean there will be more plastic than fish in the world’s oceans.

So the next time you go to Starbucks and order your favorite drink in a plastic cup, take a few seconds to think if you really need it. There is the alternative of making coffee at home, and even using a resuseable thermos. These small moments may not seem like a big deal at the time, but think a few years down the line when sea turtles could potentially be extinct from plastic pollution.