Plastic garbage found in stomach of dead, pregnant whale

A dead whale that washed up on a beach in Cheng-gong Township, Taitung County, March 15, was found to have a significant amount of plastic and other man-made materials in its stomach, after being dissected, yesterday, March 19.

Researchers from the Ocean Conservation Administration, and the Taiwan Cetacean Society, said the 565-centimeter-long Cuvier’s beaked whale was pregnant, and contained a 165-centimeter-long fetus.

Inside the stomach of the whale, the researchers found 6 plastic bags, 4 burlap bags, a piece of plastic sheeting, various fragments of hard plastic, and two fishing lines.

The stomach also contained partially digested food, which suggests that the garbage may not be the direct cause of death. However, the amount of rubbish is likely to have caused significant physiological stress.

The examination also revealed blood clots in the lungs and trachea, and parasites in the kidneys of the whale.

The Ocean Conservation Administration also pointed out that a male Cuvier’s beaked whale that washed up on a beach in the Philippines, not far from Taiwan, on March 16, was found to have 40 kilograms of garbage in its stomach.

Environment activists said it was one of the worst cases of poisoning they had ever seen. The animal died of starvation and was unable to eat because its stomach was full of trash, including grocery bags and rice sacks, they said.

The OCA said that both the domestic and Philippines cases show that the issue of marine debris poses a great threat to marine life.

The OCA called on port authorities around the country to implement regulations to manage waste generated on fishing vessels, as have been implemented in Yilan County. The measures should ensure that fishers bring back their garbage to be processed on shore.

The OCA also called on the residents of Taiwan to help protect the ocean by reducing use of plastic, and proper disposal.

The Cuvier’s beaked whale usually occupies deep pelagic waters with depths of more than 1,000 meters, and feeds mainly on squid.

In 2014, scientists recorded a Cuvier’s beaked whale diving to a depth of 2,992 meters off the coast of California. The whale spent 2 hours and 17 minutes underwater before resurfacing, making it the longest and deepest dive recorded for any mammal.

dead Cuvier's beaked whale in Taitung County, Taiwan.
Cuvier’s beaked whale in Taitung County March 15. Picture: Ocean Conservation Administration, Office of Ocean Affairs.

Sources: Ocean Conservation Administration, Wikipedia.

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