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BROCHURE RACK

Spanish Sperm whale killed by plastic debris

15/03/2013 09:42:48
whales/2012/sperm_whale_spain

Emaciated Sperm whale found on a Spanish beach with a stomach full of plastic. Photo credit Renaud de Stephanis

10 metre long male Sperm whale had more than 8 kilograms of plastic in gut - Our thanks to Renaud de Stephanis of the Spanish Cetacean Society

March 2013. Marine debris has been found in marine animals since the early 20th century, but little is known about the impacts of the ingestion of debris in large marine mammals. In 2012, a dead Sperm whale was found on a beach in southern Spain. The whale weighed around 4500 kg, and seemed to be in a state of advanced emaciation. There was no evidence of entanglement scars or other injuries. 

Large mass of compacted plastics

During inspection of the abdominal cavity, squid beaks were found on the exterior portion of the small intestine, and inside the stomach compartments. A large mass of compacted plastics could be seen protruding through a rupture in the first stomach compartment. No fresh remains of squids were recovered. The intestines were empty. Cause of death was presumed to be gastric rupture following impaction with debris, which added to a previous problem of starvation. All of the plastic pieces and other debris were recovered. The matching of the sperm whale's fluke revealed that the animal had not been photographically matched before in the Mediterranean Sea.

Picture of the plastic contains in the sperm whale. The arrow indicates the remains.

Picture of the plastic contains in the sperm whale. The arrow indicates the remains.

Sperm whales feed near centre of greenhouse industry

The spatial distribution modelled for the species in the region shows that these animals can be seen in two distinct areas: near the waters of Almería, Granada and Murcia and in waters near the Strait of Gibraltar. The results shows how these animals feed in waters near an area completely flooded by the greenhouse industry, making them vulnerable to its waste products if adequate treatment of this industry's debris is not in place.

Most types of these plastic materials have been found in the individual examined and cause of death was presumed to be gastric rupture following impaction with debris, which added to a previous problem of starvation.

Plastic debris found in the stomach coming from greenhouse: (a) flower pot, (b) hosepipe, (c) greenhouse cover material, (d) plastic burlap, (e) rope, and (f) plastic mulch of greenhouse.

Plastic debris found in the stomach coming from greenhouse: (a) flower pot, (b) hosepipe, (c) greenhouse cover material, (d) plastic burlap, (e) rope, and (f) plastic mulch of greenhouse.

Greenhouse cultivation

Greenhouse cultivation has spread rapidly over the last few years in many regions, in particular in the Mediterranean Basin countries, where the mild winter temperatures allow the production of low-cost vegetables all year round. In western Almeria (Andalucía) approximately 25,902 ha of crops were grown under plastics in the 2005 season. In the same way as in Almeria, this type of culture is beginning to flourish slowly in the regions of Murcia and Granada.

2 flower pots & large amount of plastic covering found inside the whale
Greenhouses use many plastic materials with different. Interestingly, most types of these plastic materials have been found in the individual examined, starting with two flowerpots. The main debris found in the animal (26 items totalling more than 8.1 kg and a total surface of 29.9 m2) was identified as the plastic cover material of greenhouses, which is typically transparent.

Full study paper - de Stephanis, R., et al. As main meal for sperm whales: Plastics debris. Mar. Pollut. Bull. (2013), http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.marpolbul.2013.01.033 

Predicted density surface map of sperm whales in the Area of Almeria from spatial modelling and greenhouse situation in the area (in black). 

 

Plastic debris found in the stomach of the sperm whale. 

 

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