Sei whales are majestic animals and I’ve had the great fortune of witnessing their grace and splendor in the open ocean. Last week, however, a 45-foot sei whale washed up on the shores of the Elizabeth River in Virginia. An 11-foot bruise above her left jaw and two fractured vertebrae led the Virginia Aquarium Stranding Response Team to believe she was killed by blunt force trauma following a collision with a ship.
However, a necropsy revealed that the whale also had “a large sharp piece of rigid, black plastic” roughly the size of a standard index card lodged in her stomach.
In the days leading up to her death, the Virginia Aquarium team said that she “was thin and its movements were not indicative of a healthy whale.” They believe that the plastic in the whale’s stomach prevented her from feeding normally. This likely weakened the whale and could explain why she swam up the Elizabeth River.
Unfortunately we cannot dismiss this as a tragic, isolated incident. Plastic pollution in the marine environment has become a persistent and proliferating threat to our ocean. Plastics pose a great threat to the animals that live in and around the ocean, and our fight for a clean ocean is just as much for them as it is for us.
While there is no “catch all” solution for ocean trash, you can join the fight for a healthy ocean. This September, Ocean Conservancy is hosting its 29th annual International Coastal Cleanup. The Cleanup will not eradicate the perils of plastics in the ocean, but it can eliminate the chance that items littering our beaches and waterways ever find their way into our marine environment.