I have heard many stories about the devastating impacts of pollution, how fishing gear entangles and strangles marine mammals, how bits of plastic end up in birds’ stomachs, and how plastic bags are mistaken for jellyfish by turtles. But sweat pants in a gray whale’s stomach?! That is a first. And unfortunately won’t be the last completely strange anecdote on trash in the ocean, there is just too much of it.
Sweat pants were just one in a long list of items found in the stomach of a gray whale during a necropsy. According to a press release issued yesterday by Cascadia Research, “The animal had more than 50 gallons of largely undigested stomach contents consisting mostly of algae but also a surprising amount of human debris including more than 20 plastic bags, small towels, surgical gloves, sweat pants, plastic pieces, duct tape, and a golf ball.”
This is the fifth dead gray whale to wash ashore in Washington State in the last two weeks.While trash only accounted for one to two percent of the gray whale’s stomach contents and probably didn’t cause the whale’s death, it’s still disturbing. Gray whales are baleen whales and usually feed by sucking in sediment from the ocean floor and filtering out for dinner the small critters that live there. But apparently some gray whales are also scoring trash littered within the sediment. What are we doing to our oceans? What will the long term impacts be of such blatant disregard. How can we fix this? Is it too late? These are the questions that keep me awake at night. If only I knew the answers.