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Beached sperm whale found with 220 pounds of trash in his stomach

Rescuers rush to save beached whales

A sperm whale that washed up on a beach was found with 220 pounds of plastic trash in his stomach. The whale beached itself and died on a northern Scottish island last Thursday, according to local researchers, who found the carcass several days later. 

Marine researchers who conducted a necropsy on the young marine mammal found nets, cups, bags, rope, packing straps, tubing and other debris inside his stomach. They called the discovery on Luskentyre Beach "shameful." 

"All this material was in a huge ball in the stomach and some of it it looked like it had been there for some time," the Scottish Marine Animal Stranding Scheme (SMASS), which performed the necropsy, wrote on Facebook. When the whale was cut open, "most of the guts blew out of the side" due to the body decomposing quickly.

Researchers said they did not find conclusive evidence that the whale's intestines were impacted or obstructed by the debris, so it's unclear whether the stranding was a direct result of the plastic buildup.

"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," they said. "It is also perhaps a good example that this is a global issue caused by a whole host of human activities."

SMASS said it is investigating how the extreme amount of debris ended up in the whale's stomach. They noted the trash most likely came from "both the land and fishing sectors," and could have been swallowed anywhere from Norway to the Azores.

Following the necropsy, the whale was buried on the beach — it could not be moved due to its size and location.  

The Luskentyre Beach Facebook page documented ocean plastic picked up by visitors. "Debris in our oceans is everyone's problem - the fishing industry need to do better, but equally, we all need to do more," they wrote after discovering a massive amount of garbage near where the whale was found. 

According to SMASS, reports of whale and dolphin strandings in Scotland are on the rise. Just a few days before this most recent stranding, the same organization found a dead pregnant adult female minke whale after it became tangled in a discarded fishing net

With the ever-growing presence of plastic in oceans around the world, the discovery of trash inside the stomachs of beached marine animals is becoming more common. 

In March, a dead whale in the Philippines was found with 88 pounds of plastic in its stomach. In April, nearly 50 pounds of plastic was pulled from the stomach of a pregnant whale after she washed ashore in Italy. 

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