A rare goose-beaked whale that repeatedly beached on a Norwegian shore was so ill that it had to be euthanized — and experts soon found out why. The 2-ton animal had about 30 plastic bags and other garbage packed in its stomach.
There was “no food, only some remnants of a squid’s head in addition to a thin fat layer,” said University of Bergen zoologist Terje Lislevand, according to The Associated Press.
The 20-foot adult male whale had appeared several times in shallow waters off the island of Sotra, and personnel from both the fire department and the Department of Wildlife Conservation repeatedly attempted to herd or tow the animal back into the deep.
The plastic — as well as candy wrappers, smaller bread bags and other garbage— was discovered during the necropsy, Norwegian public media NRK reported. Researchers believe the animal may have thought the bags were squid it could eat, according to Sky News.
“It wasn’t like it was in just part of the stomach,” Lislevand told Sky News. “It filled up the whole space. It’s the explanation of why the animal acted so strange and stranded.”
Lislevand said he believes the animal was in serious pain for a long time.
“I’m afraid to estimate how long it could have taken before his stomach was totally full,” he said. “In this case the plastic particles accumulated and created a barrier in the system.”
The goose-beaked whale, also known as a Cuvier’s beaked whale, is the first to ever be found off the coast of Norway. The animal was just the latest of a mounting tally of victims claimed by plastic pollution of the ocean.
Lislevand noted to the AP that United Nations estimates indicate that about 8 million tons of plastic trash are dumped into the ocean every year. A World Economic Forum study also found that there are currently at least 150 million tons of trash in the ocean, Norwegian public media NRK reported.
A 2015 study by researchers at the University of California, Davis and Hasanuddin University in Indonesia found that one-quarter of fish sampled in fish markets in California and Indonesia had plastic or some other fibrous garbage in their bellies.