A young 37-foot whale was found stranded on the shore in West Seattle, and it had a summary of what we’re doing to our oceans held within its stomach. As photographer Chris Jordan documented in birds’ guts, our marine animals are filling up not on nutritious sea life, but the junk we toss out that makes its way into the oceans. Fifty gallons of contents were examined from this near-adult male gray whale, and you won’t believe some of the garbage this poor beast had swallowed.
According to Cascadia Research Collective, 50 gallons of stomach contents were sorted through. Most of it was real food – algae and other bits common to a gray whale diet – but also included were more than 20 plastic bags, small towels, surgical gloves, sweat pants, plastic pieces, duct tape, and a golf ball.
If there were any doubt before, there is none now – the ocean has become a landfill. However, if there’s a bit of a silver lining, the trash made up just about two percent of the total contents, and it doesn’t seem to have been the cause of death. But what Cascadia Research points out, “It did clearly indicate that the whale had been attempting to feed in industrial waters and therefore exposed to debris and contaminants present on the bottom in these areas.”
Gray whales are bottom feeders and get their nutrition from the sediments in shallow waters. They filter small organisms as their food, but apparently they aren’t always able to filter out human pollution. Researchers are currently studying the whale to find out the cause of death, which could be anything from not getting enough food (three other whales that died in April during migration appeared emaciated and perhaps didn’t get enough to eat in Alaska last year) to pollution and chemicals in the water. The results won’t be known for several weeks.