A massive sperm whale discovered stranded in Scotland on Thursday later died, and a necropsy performed by researchers revealed a 220 lb. (100kg) ball of plastic, debris, and trash in its stomach.
Wrote Scottish Marine Animal Strandings Scheme (SMASS) on Facebook: “In this whale’s stomach was approximately 100kg of marine debris- a whole range of plastic including sections of net, bundles of rope, plastic cups, bags, gloves, packing straps and tubing. All this material was in a huge ball in the stomach and some of it it looked like it had been there for some time. The animal wasn’t in particularly poor condition, and whilst it is certainly plausible that this amount of debris was a factor in its live stranding, we actually couldn’t find evidence that this had impacted or obstructed the intestines. This amount of plastic in the stomach is nonetheless horrific, must have compromised digestion, and serves to demonstrate, yet again, the hazards that marine litter and lost or discarded fishing gear can cause to marine life. It is also perhaps a good example that this is a global issue caused by a whole host of human activities. This whale had debris in its stomach which seemed to have originated from both the land and fishing sectors, and could have been swallowed at any point between Norway and the Azores. We are looking in more detail to see if we can work out quite why this animal ended up with so much of it in its stomach.”
Melvin Nicholson, who witnessed the 45 ft. whale on Thursday, wrote about it on Facebook: “Carla, one of my workshop clients, had noticed that a large whale had washed up on the beach in the distance from where we were stood by the roadside (presumed dead). On closer inspection it was still alive but completely beached. We decided to drive to the closest point to the beach access and walk the 20 minute journey to the whale. On parking up, the Coastguard were tooling up to head out there themselves. We followed them to the whale. On arriving we noticed that very sadly, the whale had passed away, more than likely under the weight of its own body. To be honest, I would not have wanted to have seen it alive up close as it appeared to be very distressed. Overall, it was really sad to see the passing of what is truly an amazing creature and to be able to see one up close is an absolute privilege. It’s just a shame that something could not be done to save its life.”
The researchers later published a graphic video of the whale’s stomach bursting after it was punctured. “Animals this size are so well insulated that even though the temperature outside barely got above freezing, they don’t cool down and hence decompose incredibly quickly.”