Wave of sperm whale deaths again sparks concern over plastic pollution plaguing the oceans

The dead sperm whale that washed up in Davao, the Philippines on May 21, 2022.

A day after a juvenile female sperm whale was found dead on the shores of Tel Aviv in Israel and less than a month after an adult male and a newborn calf were found dead in the Florida Keys in the United States States, another dead sperm whale washed up in the Philippines on Saturday.

According to reports, the Philippines’ Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) said two fishermen spotted the 18-meter dead whale on a beach in the Davao area on Saturday. The DENR further added that the carcass had “multiple injuries” and was “most likely already lifeless” when it washed up on shore.

The wave of sperm whale deaths worries experts.

The autopsy in the case of the two whales in the Florida Keys yielded alarming results. According to a spokesperson for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) quoted in local media, the whale “had a mass of intertwining lines, pieces of netting, and plastic bag-like material in its stomach. This debris probably did not allow the whale to eat properly, leading to its emaciated state and stranding.

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While it was in the United States, of the five sperm whales found dead in the vicinity of Davao in the Philippines in 2019, the autopsy of a young but dehydrated and emancipated sperm whale showed pieces of nylon rope and plastic cups. single-use plastic – commonly used by local food vendors – in his stomach. His stomach and intestines were otherwise empty.

The red flag is clearer than ever: human actions are proving increasingly devastating to wild creatures. Maddie Kaufman, Program and Outreach Director of Debris Free Oceans – an ocean conservation organization, which advocates for the reduction of plastic waste – says: “Unfortunately, when animals consume our waste, they cannot break it down into their stomach and they fill up and actually think they’re full, so they may end up starving.

11 million tonnes of plastic enter our oceans every year beyond the estimated 200 million metric tons currently circulating in our marine environments, according to Ocean Conservancy – a US-based nonprofit environmental advocacy group. So much so that plastic has been found in over 60% of all seabirds and 100% of sea turtle species, which confuse plastic with food. From the smallest plankton to the largest sperm whale, plastic impacts nearly 700 species in the planet’s oceans. And when animals ingest plastic — as in the case of these dead sperm whales and many other dead sea animals washed up on shore — it can cause life-threatening problems. Threats from ingesting plastic and confusing it with food include reduced fitness, nutrient absorption, and feed efficiency, all of which are essential for survival.

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The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species lists sperm whales as “vulnerable” and at “high risk of extinction in the wild”.
Known to be highly perceptive creatures, sperm whales have the largest brains in the world – more than six times larger than humans. This can mean that sperm whales are developing social bonds, culture and bonds associated with mammals with larger and more complex brains.
Sperm whales of the 19th century were able to spread information how to avoid whalers and modify their behavior to survive. They also may have realized that their usual method of surrounding an attacker would not work against the new whaler threat. To avoid their would-be killers, they swam against the wind after realizing that their hunters needed a favorable wind to pursue them. The result of these new strategies was a 58% drop in a whaler’s success in spearing a whale.

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For ordinary people like us, they are the non-white Moby Dicks – the last dodos. Fun fact: Although Moby Dick is a work of fiction, it was inspired by a real white whale. There are real wonders in the marine world and sperm whales are an integral part of this wonder.

It’s truly pathetic if we can’t see our hands leading them to their watery graves even now.

Bryce K. Locke