One Broken DVD Case May Have Killed This Endangered Whale
Marine experts are warning the public about the dangers of water pollution after it was revealed that a single piece of improperly disposed of plastic may have contributed to the death of an endangered sei whale in Virginia last week.
Biologists from the Virginia Aquarium Stranding Response Team had been following the female whale for days since she was first spotted swimming up the Elizabeth River, a tributary of Chesapeake Bay, far from the deep waters of the open ocean where her species is normally found. Biologists said that the animal appeared to be sick and disoriented, unable to find her way back out.
Sadly, after several days of traveling upstream, the whale was found dead - though likely not from natural causes. The team conducted a necropsy on the animal and discovered that she had swallowed a shard of plastic, part of a DVD case that might have been washed out to sea.
"This may have caused the lining of the stomach to be damaged and may have prevented the animal from feeding (since there was no evidence the whale had fed recently)," the aquarium said in a statement. "This may explain why it wandered into an unusual area like the Elizabeth River."
The team says that the whale also had several broken bones, possibly from being hit by a boat while she swam the riverway.
Sei whales are listed as an endangered species, having been hunted extensively during the whaling era in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Despite the protections, however, the species has yet to fully recover, making the death of even a single whale no small loss - especially when it likely could have been prevented.
"This is why we need to be mindful of marine debris," Virginia Aquarium spokesperson Joan Barns told the Virginian-Pilot. "People need to be responsible and pick up their trash and respect the ocean."
Every year, an estimated 100,000 marine mammals are killed from improperly disposed of plastic.