Plastic Ingestion in Mediterranean Sperm Whale

by Chloe Mayne

Marine debris has become an extensive problem in the oceans today. Plastics and other debris affect over 250 species of marine organisms by entanglement and ingestion. Current studies have shown large marine mammals to be affected by entanglement, but few studies exist on the affects of ingestion of plastic debris. There have been three recorded standings of sperm whales with large amounts of plastic and marine debris in their stomachs. In the Mediterranean Sea, the population of sperm whales is considered to be a separate species and has had a decline in population over the past 20 years. This decline has been attributed mostly to boat strikes and entanglement, with no knowledge of the affects of plastic ingestion. Stephanis et al. (2013) examined a stranded sperm whale in the Mediterranean Sea that had ingested a large amount of marine debris. They discuss the results in terms of the spatial distribution of sperm whales and the anthropogenic activities in the area. In the Mediterranean Sea, the species is found near Almería and the Strait of Gibraltar. This study found that the whales feed in an area with lots of debris from the greenhouse industry. In the sperm whale examined, the cause of death was determined to be gastric rupture from the build up of debris. Continue reading