Grim find in whale’s stomach

Published Wednesday, 4th December 2019 in Scottish Marine Animal Stranding Scheme news

Sperm whale found washed up with 100kg of debris in its stomach
Sperm whale found washed up with 100kg of debris in its stomach

Luskentyre Beach served as a stunning backdrop to a “horrific” discovery by the Scottish Marine Animal Stranding Scheme (SMASS).

Members of the team, part of SRUC, travelled to Harris to investigate a dead sperm whale, and were stunned to find 100kg of marine debris in the animal’s stomach.

 A range of plastic including sections of net, bundles of rope, plastic cups, bags, gloves, packing straps and tubing was among the debris. The material was in a huge ball in the stomach, with some of it appearing to have been there for some time.

The subadult male had live-stranded and died on the sandbanks around 48 hours before SMASS reached the remote site.

Dr Andrew Brownlow, who heads up SMASS, said that, although it was plausible the amount of debris was a factor in the whale’s live stranding, the team found no evidence that this had impacted or obstructed the intestines.

He added: “This amount of plastic in the stomach is nonetheless horrific, must have compromised digestion, and serves to demonstrate, yet again, the hazards that marine litter and lost or discarded fishing gear can cause to marine life. It is also perhaps a good example that this is a global issue caused by a whole host of human activities.

“This whale had debris in its stomach which seemed to have originated from both the land and fishing sectors, and could have been swallowed at any point between Norway and the Azores. We are looking in more detail to see if we can work out quite why this animal ended up with so much of it in its stomach.”

Dr Brownlow thanked members of the coastguard and the Western Isles Council disposal team, who helped with the necropsy and to bury the 20-tonne whale.

Find out more about SMASS.

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