A sperm whale found dead on the coast of southern Spain was killed by swallowing 29 kilos (64 pounds) of plastic, government officials have confirmed. During an autopsy of the creature, investigators uncovered plastic bags, netting and a jerry can in the whale’s digestive system. The death of the marine mammal has prompted authorities to launch a campaign against dumping plastic waste at sea.
The body of the young male sperm whale, which was around 10 metres (33 feet) long and weighed more than six tonnes, was discovered washed ashore at Cabo de Palos in Mercia at the end of February. Experts at the region’s El Valle Wildlife Rescue Centre, which carried out the procedure, said it had been unable to digest or excrete the plastic it ingested.
The official cause of death was peritonitis, an infection of the inner lining of the stomach. Sperm whales are found in most of the world’s oceans, except the high Arctic, and prefer deep waters. They belong to the suborder of toothed whales and dolphins, known as odontocetes. And they are one of the easiest whales to identify at sea.
The creatures gained their name during the days of commercial whaling. Whalers thought that their large square heads were huge reservoirs for sperm. Because when the head was cut open it was found to contain a milky white substance.
The exact current worldwide population is not known, but it is estimated at around 100,000. The sperm whale, which subsists on a diet largely made up of squid and has a life expectancy roughly equivalent to a human’s at around 70 years, is listed as a vulnerable species.
Plastics in the area threaten the bottlenose striped and common dolphin, the grey and common pilot whale. In addition to these cetaceans, the presence of plastics also affects loggerhead turtles. Which has increased its presence at nesting sites in the region.