A post-mortem on 13 sperm whales that washed ashore near the town of Toenning in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany, found plastic in their stomachs. The whales likely died of cardiac and circulatory failure from starvation, however, not via the rubbish in their intestines.
Still, the stomach contents – which include a 13-meter-long (43-foot-long) fisherman’s net and a 70-centimeter (28-inch) piece of plastic from a car – are stark reminders of the environmental impact of human trash.
“These findings show us the results of our plastic orientated society,” Schleswig-Holstein environment Minister Robert Habeck told the Daily Mail. “Animals inadvertently consume plastic and plastic waste which causes them to suffer and at worst, causes them to starve with full stomachs.”
All the whales were male, between the age of 10 and 15, and weighed around 15 tonnes (16 tons) – a gaunt weight considering sperm whales typically weigh 32 to 41 tonnes (35 to 45 tons). Experts believe that storms in the northeast Atlantic shifted the whales’ food source into the North Sea. Guided by their hungry stomachs, the whales followed the calamari and found themselves stranded in shallow water.
A man holds some of the trash found in the sperm whales' stomachs.