Plastic Pollution in the Oceans is Causing Problems for Whales, too.

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Every year, humans consume 70 million tons of seafood. Though this is an astonishing volume—one that has a serious impact on ocean populations—it cannot compare to sperm whales which consume more than 100 million tons of seafood annually. Most of this consists of squid and small fish but—increasingly—plastic trash is making its way into the whales' diet as well.

Sperm whales, specifically, have been identified as one of the most intelligent species in the ocean—if not on the planet. They posses the largest brains of any known animal—living or extinct—and use sounds and sonar to communicate with one another, organize into social groups, and even identify individuals by name.

The cosmopolitan species has found great success and managed to establish itself in all of the world's oceans and many of the major seas. One of the keys to this success is their ability to dive deep below the surface—with some dropping nearly two miles—to find food. Even so, they have not been able to escape the scourge of ocean plastic pollution that has also impacted fish, turtles, and birds.

SLIDESHOW: An Ocean of Plastic...In Birds' Guts

Though hunting of sperm whales has been regulated since just after WWII, threats like pollution continue to threaten the species. The problem with ocean plastic is twofold: First, the mass of trash takes up space in the animal's stomach, reducing their ability to consume enough nutrients. In addition, the releases heavy metals and other toxins as it breaks down, creating a potentially deadly concentration of poison in the animal's fat.

Researchers have identified sperm whales as one of the longest-living animal species on the planet, with individuals regularly surpassing 100 years. Still, the improper disposal of something that—to humans—is as trivial as a shopping bag or bottle cap threatens to not only shorten this long lifespan but erode the viability of the species as a whole.

Tags: Animals | Conservation | Oceans | Whales

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