Whales eating human garbage

Last month, I noticed several reports of mass die-offs of baby sea mammals.

This month, Washington State is witnessing a gray whale die-off, and Cascadia Research Collective is researching “the fifth gray whale to have died this year in Washington and the fourth in Puget Sound in the last 2 weeks.” Its initial discovery:

The 37 foot near-adult male was found to be in better nutritional condition than some of the other gray whales that have died in recent weeks and starvation was not considered a major contributor to the cause of death. The animal had more than 50 gallons of largely undigested stomach contents consisting mostly of algae but also a surprising amount of human debris including more than 20 plastic bags, small towels, surgical gloves, sweat pants, plastic pieces, duct tape, and a golf ball… The debris while numerous, made up only 1-2% of the stomach contents and there was no clear indication it had caused the death of the animal. It did clearly indicate that the whale had been attempting to feed in industrial waters and therefore exposed to debris and contaminants present on the bottom in these areas. Gray whales are filter feeders that typically feed on the bottom and suck in sediment in shallow waters and filter the contents to strain out the small organisms that live there. They have been known to accumulate material including rocks and other debris from the bottom ingested in this process.

Other sea animals are probably suffering from humanity’s immense oceanic garbage dumps:

  • The North Atlantic Garbage Patch “is estimated to be hundreds of kilometres across in size, with a density of over 200,000 pieces of debris per square kilometre”
  • The Great Pacific Garbage Patch: “Although many scientists suggest that the patch extends over a very wide area, with estimates ranging from an area the size of the state of Texas to one larger than the continental United States, the exact size is unknown… The Patch is characterized by exceptionally high concentrations of pelagic plastics, chemical sludge, and other debris”

Posted by James on Thursday, April 22, 2010