After a five-day struggle, a stranded pilot whale in Thailand gave up the ghost. After conducting an autopsy at the weekend, marine biologists found the whale's stomach to be packed with over 80 plastic bags, leaving no doubt as to what killed the poor cetacean.
Events began at the start of last week, when the small male short-finned pilot whale was found clinging to life up a canal in Songkhla province, near the border with Malaysia. This sparked a five-day effort by conservation officials to save the animal’s life, using buoys to keep the whale afloat, and umbrellas to shield it from the Sun.
But when the animal vomited up five plastic bags, those trying to care for the whale realized that there was something else afoot. Unfortunately, the whale could not be saved by the dedicated rescue efforts, and when the officials conducted an autopsy of the animal to see if they could figure out what may have led to its tragic death, they found an appalling 80 plastic bags lodged in its stomach.
Weighing roughly 8 kilograms (18 pounds), the mass of plastic was so large it effectively prevented the whale from eating anything, and thus it starved to death. “If you have 80 plastic bags in your stomach, you die,” marine biologist Thon Thamrongnawasawat summed up succinctly to AFP.
The natural diet of pilot whales includes fish and octopus, but the whales primarily feed on squid. It is more than likely that the whale was mistaking the floating plastic bags in the ocean for squid, and that as the situation got more desperate, and the whale hungrier, it became stressed and disorientated, with the highly social animal ending up on its own in the Thai canal.
The event – while not unprecedented – is being looked at in a new light as people are becoming more and more aware of the devastating impact that single-use plastic is having on the marine environment.
In fact, Thailand is one of the worst offenders in the world, as it is one of the largest users of plastic bags, with every single person using an average of a staggering eight bags every single day. The death of this whale might not be in complete vain, as campaigners are fighting to get Thai people to change their attitude, recognise and understand the implications of single-use plastic, and switch to using reusable bags instead.