A baby dolphin was found dead on Fort Myers Beach, Florida, with plastic trash in its stomach last week. An autopsy conducted by biologists from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission on April 25 showed that the dolphin had ingested a balloon and two plastic bags.
The dolphin’s definite cause of death is still under investigation; however, the findings highlight the importance of reducing single-use plastic and not releasing balloons in the atmosphere, the commission said.
The dolphin's death is just the latest in a devastating global trend of plastic pollution-related deaths among marine animals.
Marine creatures that are unable to distinguish between food and plastic frequently consume plastic waste, which many are unable to digest or excrete. Instead, the waste accumulates in their stomach and often clogs their digestive tracts, ultimately leading to death. Other animals get strangled in nets and plastic bags, though most ingest trash while swallowing water or intaking food.
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"Although a significant finding, there are many additional factors to consider, such as underlying illness, disease and maternal separation, before a final cause of stranding and death for the dolphin can be determined," the commission said in a Facebook statement.
In a recent study, researchers examining urine samples of bottlenose dolphins in Sarasota, Florida, found enormous amounts of chemical additives in their bodies. The most common chemical found, phthalates, is commonly found in plastics, cosmetics, and paints.
“We weren't surprised to detect exposure, but what was surprising were the levels we were detecting,” Leslie Hart, the study's lead author said. This was the first time in 40 years that researchers had found phthalates in the bodies of wild dolphins.
An overwhelming number of dolphins washed up in southwest Florida last year. In what was known as one of the worst years for the species, 127 were found dead on the shore, way more than the historical average of two. The news came less than a month after a whale with 88 pounds of plastic washed up on the other side of the world in Davao City, Philippines.
Many animals including sea turtles, sea lions, seabirds, dolphins, and whales, have become victims of increasing levels of ocean pollution.
Since 1950, an estimated 8.3 billion metric of plastic has been generated, 8 to 13 million tons, of which, enters the world’s ocean each year, yet only 9.1% of plastic waste in the US, among the world's top producers of plastic waste, is recycled.
Until lawmakers and consumers take action to prevent plastic waste and use more sustainable alternatives, dolphins and many other marine creatures remain in danger.