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Plastic Pollution is Killing Whales

Songkhla, Thailand —(Map)

Last Friday a pilot whale died in Thailand after swallowing over 80 plastic bags. Workers had been trying to save it for days, but it was not able to survive.

It’s a sad story, but it’s also a story that is more and more common. Whales have been found around the world, dead or dying, with their stomachs full of plastic and trash that humans have thrown away. The whales are starving, but they can’t eat because their insides are blocked with plastic.

80 Plastic bags were found inside the whale.
80 Plastic bags were found inside the whale.
(Source: Thailand Department of Marine and Coastal Resources.)


The pilot whale in Thailand is just the most recent story. Scientists believe the whale ate the bags it found in the water because it thought that they were squid. When scientists studied the whale after it died, they found around 18 pounds (8 kilos) of plastic bags inside it.

Greece & Spain

In May, whale researchers reported on sperm whales found dead in Greece. They learned that more than one third of these whales died because they ate plastic.

Whales have been starving - they can't eat because their insides are full of plastic.
Whales have been starving – they can’t eat because their insides are full of plastic.
This whale was beached in England in 2006.
(Source: PookieFugglestein, from Wikimedia Commons.)

Earlier this year, a 33-foot-long sperm whale was washed onto a beach in Spain. It was not full grown, but it was still very small for a sperm whale. It weighed about one tenth of the 120,000 pounds (54,500 kilos) that a normal adult sperm whale would weigh. Scientists found 64 pounds of plastic had blocked up its stomach and kept it from eating.

Normal adult sperm whales can weigh 120,000 pounds (54,500 kilos).
Normal adult sperm whales can weigh 120,000 pounds (54,500 kilos).
The whale in Spain weighed about one tenth of that.
(Source: By NOAA, via Wikimedia Commons.)


In February, something similar happened in Taiwan. Scientists tried to rescue three pygmy right whales which were behaving oddly and seemed lost. Pygmy right whales are much smaller than most other whales. Later the whales died. The stomach of one whale held 18 plastic bags. The bags had gotten tangled and made it so that the whale could not eat.

Plastic Pollution Everywhere

Yesterday, as part of World Environment Day, the United Nations (UN) created a special report about plastic. “Our world is swamped by harmful plastic waste,” UN leader António Guterres said.

That seems to be true. And there is almost nowhere in the ocean that is free from our plastic trash.

Bag floating underwater.
To whales, floating plastic bags might look like jellyfish or squid.
Plastic bags have been found 36,000 feet (11,000 meters) below the sea.
(Source: seegraswiese, from Wikimedia Commons.)

In early May, National Geographic reported that a plastic bag was found at the deepest place in the ocean. The bag was spotted 36,000 feet (11,000 meters) below the sea in the Mariana Trench.

The UN wants people and governments around the world to work harder to use less plastic and to recycle what they use.

We can’t know for sure what the whales think, but it is safe to say that they are fed up with our plastic.

[This article is part of a series exploring the effects of plastic on our world.]


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