A necropsy of a stranded baby dolphin found that its stomach was full of trash, including two plastic bags and a large piece of a balloon, in a case that highlights the need to drastically reduce the amount of plastic waste we release into the oceans.
The female rough-toothed dolphin was found stranded on Florida’s Fort Myers Beach last week, far from its natural range. Michelle Kerr of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute (FWCResearch) told Florida Today that the young dolphin was "emaciated" and in poor health.
“We made the decision to humanely euthanize on-site."
FWCResearch conducted an autopsy of the dolphin as part of an investigation to determine the cause of the animal's poor health prior to its death, finding several large pieces of trash in its body.
However, the team is reluctant to point blame at the contents of the dolphin's stomach just yet.
"Although a significant finding, there are many additional factors to consider, such as underlying illness, disease, and maternal separation, before a final cause of stranding and death for the dolphin can be determined," they wrote in a statement on Facebook.
"Samples collected during necropsy will be sent for analysis to help with this determination."
Nevertheless, the team said that the discovery "highlights the need to reduce single-use plastic and to not release balloons into the environment," and reminded their followers that "marine mammals strand for a reason, often the animals are sick or injured."
Around the world, efforts are being made to ban single-use plastics due to the damage they are causing to marine life and ecosystems. Just last month, the European Union (EU) voted to ban throwaway plastic by 2021, out of concern that plastic pollution is "suffocating" the planet.
The EU estimates that more than 80 percent of marine litter is plastic. A report in 2015 found that there were over 5 trillion pieces of plastic in the oceans, with around 269,000 tons floating on the water's surface.
It's a huge problem for marine life around the world. Last month, a whale washed up with a shocking 40 kilograms (88 pounds) of plastic trash including bags in its guts in the Philippines, while in Italy a pregnant sperm whale was found to have 23 kilograms (50 pounds) of plastic in its stomach in early April.