Whale dies with 40 kilograms of plastic in its stomach

Whale with plastic in its stomach
© Darrell Blatchley, director of D' Bone Collector Museum Inc., shows plastic waste found in the stomach of a Cuvier's beaked whale in Compostela Valley, Davao. March 16, 2019. (Photo: AFP/Getty Images)

Horrified biologists say it's the most plastic they've ever seen in a whale.

This past weekend a young whale washed up on Mindanao Island in the Philippines, dead from plastic-induced 'gastric shock.' When a team of researchers from the D’Bone Collector Museum in Davao City performed an autopsy, they pulled out a shocking 40 kilograms (88 pounds) of plastic from the whale's stomach.

"It's the most plastic we have ever seen in a whale," the biologists said in a Facebook post. They removed "40 kilos of plastic bags, including 16 rice sacks, 4 banana plantation style bags and multiple shopping bags." They said they will post a full list of contents in coming days.

The accompanying pictures are horrifying – entire armfuls of bloody decomposing bags being removed from the stomach. It's a disturbing reminder of just how toxic our plastic addiction is, and how production and consumption habits have to change.

While this whale in the Philippines breaks the record for quantity of plastic ingested, it's sadly not unusual for plastic ingestion to be a cause of death (not to mention entanglement and suffocation). A whale died in Thailand last year after swallowing 18 pounds worth of plastic bags, and a sperm whale was found a few months ago in Indonesia with 115 plastic cups in its stomach and some flip-flops.

D'Bone Museum's owner and marine biologist, Darrell Blatchley, told the Guardian that "in the 10 years they have examined dead whales and dolphins, 57 of them were found to have died due to accumulated rubbish and plastic in their stomachs." In its Facebook post, the museum called on the government to do something:

"It's disgusting. Action must be taken by the government against those who continue to treat the waterways and ocean as dumpsters."

But as we've argued many times on TreeHugger, this problem isn't about littering. It's about production, and the fact that something as non-biodegradable and harmful as plastic continues to be churned out by factories and used as go-to packaging for almost everything we buy.

Consumers still have a responsibility to choose their packaging wisely and to ensure their waste doesn't get littered around, but this is less their fault than it is that of the manufacturers who could offer better packaging options, but choose not to (or don't bother).

Government action is desperately needed to incentivize circular production, reusable containers, refill stations, plastic-free packaging innovations, and so much more. Then, hopefully, fewer whales would die.

Whale dies with 40 kilograms of plastic in its stomach
Horrified biologists in the Philippine say it's the most plastic they've ever seen in a whale.

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