A cuvier’s beaked whale with 88 pounds of plastic in its stomach washed up on the shores of Davao City, Philippines, on Saturday, underscoring the global problem of plastic waste, according to a Facebook post by the D’bone Collector Museum Inc.
The 15-foot mammal had ingested 40 pounds of plastic bags alone, and some of the plastic in its body had begun to calcify, according to the Darrell Blatchley, president of D’Bone Collector Museum, a nonprofit that retrieves dead animals and preserves them for educational purposes.
“It was showing signs of being emaciated and dehydrated,” Blatchley told Global Citizen. “It had been vomiting blood before it died.
“Upon reaching the stomach, I knew this whale had died due to plastic ingestion,” he added. “Cetaceans do not drink water from the ocean; from the food they eat they get their fresh water. So in the case of this whale, death by dehydration and starvation.”
As animals ingest plastic, they become more likely to die. When plastic fills the stomach of a whale, it can trick the animal into thinking it’s full, preventing it from eating actual, nutritious food. Plastic also becomes a magnet for toxins in the environment, and can carry heavy metals and other poisonous substances into animals.
“Cuvier’s beaked whales are a species that mainly feed in the deep, dark ocean,” John Hourston, founder of Blue Planet Society, told Global Citizen. “Beaked whales use suction to take prey into their mouth. It appears that they are mistaking plastic for food. Beaked whales are particularly susceptible to ingesting plastic most likely because it resembles their main prey species, squid.”
Pictures from the whale’s necropsy show Blachley pulling out reams of plastic mixed with guts.
“This whale had the most plastic we have ever seen in a whale,” the D’Bone Museum Facebook post says. “It's disgusting. Action must be taken by the government against those who continue to treat the waterways and ocean as dumpsters.”
In recent years, plastic pollution has become an environmental crisis. More than 8 million tons of plastic enter the world’s oceans each year, and 5 trillion microplastics are estimated to float in marine environments. All of this waste threatens marine creatures as diverse turtles, tiny amphipods, seals, dolphins, and whales.
Another whale was found last year in Spain with 64 pounds of plastic in its stomach.
The whale that washed up in Davao City, located in the country’s south, speaks to the especially acute plastic problem in the Philippines, which releases more plastic into the oceans than every country except China and Indonesia.
"The heartrending event concerning the death of a cuvier's beaked whale due to plastic ingestion very much signifies that the plastic problem of the Philippines has reached a critical level," Peachie Dioquino-Valera, an environmental activist with the Philippines-based Climate Reality Project, told Global Citizen. "For the past decade, an increasing number of marine animals have ended up dead in different areas of the country [because of plastic waste]."
Throughout the island nation, bodies of water are stuffed with plastic from casual litterers, illegal dumping schemes, and overflow from landfills, according to the South China Morning Post.
Less than a quarter of the country’s 40,000 villages have facilities for recovering plastic waste.
Laws against plastic littering aren’t being adequately enforced to deal with the magnitude of pollution and the country simply doesn’t have the capacity to recycle all the plastic that’s being consumed, the SCMP reports. More to the point, plastic production and consumption in the country have reached unsustainable levels as consumers have become used to the throwaway plastic packaging that covers nearly all goods.
Collection of coca cola bottles and caps found on Freedom Island, Philippines, during a cleanup activity.
As the environmental toll of plastic waste becomes more apparent, a zero waste movement to stop the problem is growing in the country. The zero waste movement aims to create systems where all waste in an area is either recycled or reused, nothing goes to landfills or contaminates ecosystems, and people are encouraged to buy reusable containers like tote bags and mason jars.
In the Philippines, cleaning up plastic waste has become the first step toward greater sustainability.
On March 18, 2019 at about 10:00 AM, personnel of this station led by PO3 Edwin G Penetrante together with PO1 Richard Reyes under the supervision of PCI REY D CACACHO, Station Chief conducted Coastal Clean-Up Activity in relation to the “Restoration of MANILA BAY”. pic.twitter.com/BBlbPkrUqb— manilamarpsta_rmuncr (@ncrmomarpstaone) March 18, 2019
Sustainability organizations are also pushing local communities to adopt alternatives to plastic, an effort mirrored by multinational producers of plastic.
“Manufacturers need to urgently come up with eco-friendly alternatives to plastics,” Hourston of Blue Planet Society said. “If they don’t, governments must make them. We are running out of time.”
The city of San Fernando used to be covered in plastic, but it enacted a strong plastic recovery program in 2012 that allows it to divert 70% of waste from dumpsites. It’s relatively unpolluted now.
Global Citizen is currently calling on mayors across the Philippines to follow the lead of San Fernando and join the zero waste movement. You can join us in taking action on this issue here.