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Pregnant whale washes ashore in Italy with nearly 50 pounds of plastic in her stomach

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A pregnant 26-foot sperm whale and her unborn fetus were found dead last week off the coast of the island tourist destination of Sardinia, Italy, The Associated Press reports. The whale was found with approximately 48.5 pounds of plastic in her stomach — which led the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) to condemn the "devastating" impact of plastic pollution on oceans and marine life.

Corrugated tubes for electrical work, plastic bags, single use plates and a washing detergent package with the bar code still readable were among the waste found inside the young whale's stomach, WWF told the AP. The mother whale was not able to digest calamari because of the large amount of plastic it consumed, which filled two-thirds of its stomach, experts told AP.

"It is the first time we have been confronted with an animal with such a huge quantity of garbage," Cinzia Centelegghe, a biologist with the University of Padova, told the Turin paper La Stampa, according to AP.

The female whale was beached off the northern coast of Sardinia, inside the Pelagos marine sanctuary, which was established as a haven for dolphins, whales and other sea life.

The dead whale is lifted onto a truck after being recovered off of Sardinia island, Italy. SEAME Sardinia Onlus via AP

The death of the mother whale and her fetus, which measured at about 6.5 feet, prompted WWF-Italy to issue a release. The conservation organization wrote the case is the sixth of its kind reported in the past year, coming less than a month after a dead male curvier beaked whale washed ashore with almost 100 pounds of plastic in its stomach in the Philippines.

"This is yet another painful reminder of the devastating impact that plastic pollution is having on our oceans and the terrible damage it is causing to marine life. Current efforts to tackle the problem are simply not working," said WWF in the statement.

The WWF said between 150,000 and 500,000 tons of plastic objects and 70,000 to 130,000 tons of micro-plastics end up in Europe's oceans every year. According to the World Economic Forum, plastic could potentially outweigh fish in the oceans by 2050 with its current trajectory.

"This is a global crisis that can only be solved if countries and businesses come together and accelerate progress towards a global and legally binding agreement on marine plastic pollution," WWF said. "We expect the EU and other progressive governments to take the lead on this."

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The European Union's parliament voted to ban many single-use plastic items last week, as part of an effort to keep pollution and waste out of waterways. EU member states have given their support but the ban won't go into effect until they vote on the measure.

The ban would impact plastic products for which reasonable alternatives exist, such as straws and earbuds, beginning in 2021. Disposable utensils would be permitted, but the measure asks they be made of sustainable materials whenever possible.

In the release, WWF said it is calling on member states to implement the new ban, as well as opt for "more ambitious production and waste management policies to stop plastic from reaching the Mediterranean Sea and our environment." The organization's global petition calling for a legally binding deal on marine plastics pollution has more than 374,600 signatures.

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