Plastic products are convenient and we all use them on a regular basis, but plastic pollution is a global environmental problem that increasingly threatens marine animals including whales and dolphins. To highlight this problem, scientists from Pelagos Cetacean Research Institute analyzed the stomachs of 34 individuals from seven cetacean species stranded in Greece. Plastic pieces of considerable size were found in the stomachs of nine animals from four different species: harbour porpoise, Risso’s dolphin, Cuvier’s beaked whale and sperm whale.

This emaciated, young sperm whale was found dead in Mykonos island in 2006 (A). His stomach was extremely big (B) since it contained nearly 120 plastic bags, ropes and fishing nets (C).

The scientists identified the origin of some plastic remains including plastic bags and packaging. These plastic products might had been used by any of us and reached either directly or indirectly (drifted away from open dumps via wind and rain) the Mediterranean Sea just to end up in the stomach of these animals.

One plastic bag (A & B) came from a souvlaki restaurant in Northern Greece. They found plastic bags of both Greek (C) and Turkish (D) origin and even packaging from biscuits (E & F) and from an Iced Tea six can pack (G).

According to their findings, the most affected species was the endangered sperm whale since 60% of all individuals (ten in total) had consumed plastic. Among the different plastic items (for example soft drink packaging, supermarket bags, nets, ropes etc.), plastic bags were the most common finding.

Sadly, the ingested plastic proved to be lethal for three animals. In these cases, the plastic blocked their stomach causing satiation, but also gradual starvation leading to a slow and painful death.

It is thus more than obvious that the plastic we daily use can have detrimental effects on wildlife. Since none of us is innocent, it is high time to take responsibility and ban most of the excessive plastic production!

Cover photo’s info: Aerial photograph showing the plastic debris found (ca. 33 m2) in the stomach of the young sperm whale. The people in the frame are 1.71 m tall each.

You can find the publication here.