A pregnant female sperm whale has washed up dead in Sardinia, Italy, with a stomach crammed full of undigested plastic. The news comes just weeks after a male Cuvier’s beaked whale was discovered dead in the Philippines from 40 kilograms (88 pounds) of plastic trash in its gut.
In this latest case, the pregnant female swallowed nearly 23 kilograms (50 pounds) of plastic, including fishing nets, lines, plastic bags, tubes, and other unidentifiable objects. The human refuse did not bode well for mother or calf.
The sperm whale measured 8 meters (26 feet) in length and washed up in Porto Cervo, a popular tourist destination. Despite what may appear to be the cause of death, veterinarians will take a closer look to declare an official cause of death.
“Are there still people who say these are not important problems? For me, they are priorities,” said Sergio Costa, Italy’s environment minister, in a Facebook post.
“We have used the ‘comfort’ of disposable objects in a carefree way these past years and today we are paying the consequences. Indeed, the animals are paying especially.”
Sperm whales are listed as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List. In the 18th and 19th centuries, their massive heads were highly sought after for spermaceti, or sperm oil, a sort of liquid wax, which was used in oil lamps, lubricants, and candles.
Sperm whales also have the largest brain of any creature on the planet; unfortunately, that doesn’t preclude them from the dangers of how much plastic waste ends up in our oceans. Somewhere in the realm of 8 million metric tons of plastic garbage enters Earth’s oceans every year, according to a study from a few years ago in the journal Science.
In February 2018, a young sperm whale was found dead in Spain with 29 kilograms (64 pounds) of plastic trash, fishing nets, and garbage bags in its gut. In November 2018, a sperm whale washed ashore in Indonesia with nearly 6 kilograms (13 pounds) of trash.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) note marine debris as one of the main threats to sperm whales, along with ocean noise, vessel strikes, entanglement, oil spills, and climate change.
“The disposable plastic war has begun,” said Sergio Costa. “And we won’t stop here.”