Biodiversity

Small whale dies in Greek waters from swallowing plastic

Small whale dies Greek waters swallowing plastic

Photo: Arion 2022

Published

May 6, 2022

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Published:

May 6, 2022

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Scientists found 15 kilograms of plastic in the stomach of a Cuvier’s beaked whale carcass washed up on a beach on Rhodes island. The latest in a string of similar incidents highlights the risk from plastic pollution for marine animals, but also people.

A stranded female Ziphius cavirostris of 5.3 meters was found late last month on Kremasti beach on Rhodes island. Experts from the Cetacean Rescue and Rehabilitation Research Center Arion performed a necropsy and concluded that the Cuvier’s beaked whale’s death was associated with the ingestion of a large amount of plastic, as 15 kilograms was found in its stomach.

The collected samples were sent to the Department of Veterinary Medicine of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki for further laboratory tests. The protected species is classified as insufficiently known by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) because there isn’t enough information on the species.

Small whale dies in Greek waters swallowing plastic

Many marine vertebrates die from ingesting plastics

Wild marine mammal populations in the Eastern Mediterranean, especially in Greek territorial waters, face a number of threats including direct and indirect competition with fisheries, chemical and noise pollution, collision with vessels and liners and pollution by garbage and ghost nets, the organization said.

Plastic waste is very common both on the surface and at the bottom of the sea

“Plastic waste is now a global problem for marine organisms, which are dangerously affected. A large number of marine vertebrates die from ingestion. Relevant studies show that plastic waste is very common both on the surface and at the bottom of the sea,” the report adds.

In the case of the stranded animal, the plastic in its stomach prevented it from feeding, resulting in a painful death, the organization stressed. Moreover, the Greek government recently ended a suspension of seismic oil and gas research in the Ionian sea. It introduced the ban amid a protest by WWF Greece and Arion after three beaked whales were found beached on Corfu island.

A Cuvier’s beaked whale calf was found stranded and died on Salamis island in February.

We all need to change our way of life

“The problem is deeply felt in the Mediterranean Sea, which is considered one of the world’s most burdened areas. That is why we all need to change our way of life and daily habits to give an opportunity to the Greek seas and the wonderful species they host,” Deputy Minister for Environmental Protection Issues Giorgos Amyras said.

Beaked whales dive to as deep as 3,000 meters and they can hold their breath for more than two hours.

More and more plastic waste is ending up in the environment and especially water streams and oceans. The material eventually breaks down into so-called microplastic. An old study conducted by the University of Newcastle, Australia, suggests that on average every person ingests five grams of plastic every week, the equivalent of a credit card.

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