Conservation and Biodiversity

Beached whale found with 220 pounds of trash in stomach

Over the weekend, a sperm whale became stuck in a sand bank on a remote beach in Scotland, The New York Times reported yesterday

We’ve heard this story before, you might think, and in a sense, you’d be right. But what makes this whale different is the more than 220 pounds of ocean trash found in its stomach. In 2019 alone we’ve seen whales wash up with 48 pounds of ingested trash, even 88 pounds, but we have never seen 220 pounds of garbage present in a whale.  

Trash has invaded our oceans thoroughly. It’s on our beaches, it’s ventured down to the furthest depths, it’s in our smallest organisms; it’s no wonder we’re finding these whales washing up with now hundreds of pounds of trash within them.

As horrible as these whale strandings are, they do show that this isn’t just a local or even regional problem.

“The fact that it’s a whale does a good job at showing how global the impacts of the problem are,” says David Ayer, Earth Day Network’s End Plastic Pollution campaign manager. “The northern coast of Scotland is not a place where a lot of plastic is entering the ocean from the land, but plastic in the ocean anywhere on Earth has the potential to cause a whale to wash up on a coastline on the other side of the world.”  

A 2017 study published in the journal Science Advances showed that 79% of all plastics ever made have been accumulated in landfills or the natural environment. Furthermore, current production and waste management trends continue, roughly 12,000 megatons of plastic waste will be in landfills or nature by 2050.

As a conservationist, talking about these events are never easy. Many whale populations are considered vulnerable if not already categorized as endangered. But we must remember that whales are just the tip of the iceberg.

Beneath the surface, millions of other animals harmed by plastic pollution don’t wash up on our shores or are too small to attract our attention. These animals are just as important to marine ecosystems.

The sperm whale found this weekend is just another very large canary in an even bigger coal mine telling us plastic pollution is harming marine life. Learn more about what you can do to limit plastic waste at Earth day Network’s End Plastic Pollution campaign.