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A sperm whale has been found dead on the Isle of Harris with 220lb (100kg) of litter in his stomach – including discarded fishing gear and single-use plastic items.

According to the Scottish Marine Animal Stranding Scheme (Smass), which investigates the death of marine animals, the waste material was ‘in a huge ball’ and ‘some of it it looked like it had been there for some time’. 

The organization, which carried out a necropsy on the whale, said the animal had live stranded and died on the sandbanks on Thursday morning.

‘Horrific’

“The animal wasn’t in particularly poor condition, and whilst it is certainly plausible that this amount of debris was a factor in its live stranding, we actually couldn’t find evidence that this had impacted or obstructed the intestines,” Smass said in a post on Facebook.

“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.”

Beach burial

Smass said it is ‘looking in more detail’ to see if it can work out exactly why the whale had so much rubbish in his stomach. 

The organization thanked the coastguard and the Western Isles council disposal team, who helped with the necropsy and burial of the whale, who was too big at 20 tons to move elsewhere.

This latest incident follows a spate of dead animals found with huge amounts of litter found in their stomachs – including a deer who was recently found in Thailand with 15lb of discarded trash in his system.

Maria Chiorando

Maria is the editor of Plant Based News. As a former magazine editor, newspaper reporter, and features writer, her work has been published by The Guardian, The Huffington Post, and various regional newspapers, as well as Vegan Life magazine and Vegan Trade Journal. She has interviewed a huge range of people, from Prime Ministers to authors, activists, pop stars and actors, and enjoys the varied range of topics writing for PBN allows her to tackle.