May 07, 2013
Inside Moby-Dick's stomach, there's a lot more than Ahab's leg.
The same whale that swallowed Jonah from the Bible, Geppetto from Collodi's Pinocchio, and the crew of the Pequod from Melville's Moby-Dick is now swallowing trash from the Spanish-Mediterranean coast, and in the Strait of Gibraltar.
In a study that took place in the spring of 2012, Spanish scientists preformed an in-depth autopsy on 10 meter (almost 33 foot) long whale found on a beach in Granada, Spain. The study also published a table of all known marine pollution found in whales, from studies from 1903 to present.
The study, released by Renaud de Stephanis and his team, blames the death of the studied sperm whale on the rapidly growing greenhouse industry surrounding the Mediterranean Basin.
"These animals feed in waters near an area completely flooded by the greenhouse industry, making them vulnerable to its waste products," writes de Stephanis in his paper. "Interestingly, most types of these plastic materials have been found in the individual examined, starting with two flowerpots. The main debris found in the animal was identified as the plastic cover material of greenhouses."
The results can be brutal, too; de Stephanis' study describes deaths from, "gastric rupture following impaction with debris, which added to a previous problem of starvation." In de Stephanis's whale alone, the researchers found almost 40 pounds of 59 different plastic items.
De Staphanis and his team demand further studies in the region on marine pollution, as no real data on the subject exists. Stricter, more efficient methods of waste-disposal for the Mediterranean agricultural industry are also underlined. Although its possible that the death of this one studied sperm whale is an anomaly, the study isn't optimistic, pointing out that more than 14 sperm whale bodies had been recorded in the region since 1996. The study is clear: "These debris issue should have a relevant section in the conservation plan of the species."
The sperm whale that perished from plastic pollution. Photo courtesy of de Stephanis, R., et al.
Person standing next to plastic debris found in sperm whale. Photo courtesy of de Stephanis, R., et al.
Researchers pulling plastic pollution from sperm whale's stomach. The ingestion of large amounts of plastic is believed to have killed the whale. Photo courtesy of de Stephanis, R.
From de Stephanis, R., et al: "Plastic debris found in the stomach coming from greenhouse: (a) flower pot, (b) hosepipe, (c) greenhouse cover material, (d) plastic burlap, (e) rope, and (f) plastic mulch of greenhouse."
A mother sperm whale and her calf off the coast of Mauritius. The calf has remoras attached to its body. Photo by: Gabriel Barathieu/Creative Commons 3.0.
CITATION: de Stephanis, R., et al. As main meal for sperm whales: Plastics debris. Mar. Pollut. Bull. (2013), http:// dx.doi.org/ 10.1016/j.marpolbul.2013.01.033
Japan killed record low number of whales
(04/05/2013) Japan blamed environmental activists for a "record low" take during this year's whaling season in the Southern Ocean, reports Kyodo News.
Save Lolita: new film urges release of captive killer whale
(01/22/2013) Through his new 90-second PSA, Save Lolita, filmmaker Daniel Azarian wanted to connect people to the plight of Lolita on a deeply human level; the only problem: Lolita is an orca, also known as a killer whale. But the stark, moving PSA succeeds, given the sociability of an individual—human or orca—who was stolen from her family and held in captivity for the past 42 years at Miami's Seaquarium.
Whale only known from bones washes up on beach in New Zealand
(11/05/2012) In 2010, a whale mother and male calf were found dead on Opape Beach in New Zealand. Although clearly in the beaked whale family—the most mysterious marine mammal family—scientists thought the pair were relatively well-known Gray's beaked whales (Mesoplodon grayi). That is until DNA findings told a shocking story: the mother and calf were actually spade-toothed beaked whales (Mesoplodon traversii), a species no one had ever seen before as anything more than a pile of bones.
Humpback whales delaying migration due to Antarctic changes
(07/30/2012) Humpback whales in the Antarctic are delaying their migration to feed on krill that are staying later due to reduced extent of sea ice, a possible consequence of climate change, reports a study published in the journal Endangered Species Research.
Video: All white killer whale spotted in Russia
(04/27/2012) Scientists in Russia have captured the first-known video footage of an all-white killer whale.