Even the largest marine animals are vulnerable to tiny fragments of plastic in the world’s oceans.
A male sperm whale was found ashore on the coast of southern Spain in late February last year, reminding us how critical plastic waste in the oceans has become. When the scientists first discovered that a sperm whale washed up on the beach, they were curious. 'How come a young big-headed whale die?'
The El Valle Wildlife Rescue Center experts theorized that the blockage in the whale's digestive system caused an infection in the abdomen which led to peritonitis that killed the six-tonne, 33 feet (10 meters) long marine mammal.
Through a postmortem, though, they found out the cause of its death: gastric shock by waste. They uncovered 24 kilograms (64 pounds) of it- mostly plastic, but also ropes, a plastic jerry can, pieces of net, and other debris- were lodged in its stomach.
The sperm whale is the largest whale that can chew and has the biggest brain in the world. It is one of the 'vulnerable endangered' species protected in the US under the Endangered Species Conservation Act. Squids are their typical prey, and these whales live for up to 70 years.
This uncovering spurred Murcia's regional authorities to initiate an awareness campaign against oceanic waste dumping. The community itself is still working to help the world recognize the everlasting problem with plastics and the need for beach cleaning.
Consuelo Rosauro, Murcia’s environmental counseling minister acknowledged that "...we must tackle through clean-up actions and, above all, citizen awareness."
Clearly, plastic in our oceans is a core fear of marine life in the decades to come. According to the World Economic Forum, approximately 150 million tons of plastic are already drifting in Earth's waters- with an additional 8 million tons entering them each year. To make matters worse, marine specialists believe the overall weight of plastic in our oceans might outweigh fish in the world's oceans by 2050.
Keeping these facts in mind, this happening should not be a surprise. There are myriad incidents of whales washing up on the beaches with stomachs congested with plastic pieces that may contain toxic substances like bisphenol.
Just three years ago, 13 sperm whales aged between 10 and 15 beached themselves on Germany's North Sea Coast stuffed with car components and plastics- shrimp fishing net measured 13 feet long, a plastic car engine cover, and the remains of a plastic bucket. Even before this has happened, over 30 sperm whales had been found on the shores in the UK, the Netherlands, France, Denmark, and Germany.
Good news, Murcia boasts a few environmentally protected sites along its coastline, including the Mar Menor, where the endangered animal, loggerhead turtle, nests.
Murcia's new campaign has created an awareness drive designed to encourage citizens to dispose of rubbish responsibly. New research programs were designed to monitor the extent of plastic waste off the coast and effect on marine life. Volunteers worked for 11 beach cleaning operations held across the Murcia coast.
Jaime Escribano, the representative for Murcia's environmental department, said the campaign will be sponsored by both regional funds and the EU (European Union)'s assistance.