A sperm whale washed up dead on the shores of Spain in February, and scientists now say it’s because the whale swallowed so much garbage that it couldn’t digest it.
Researchers found 64 pounds trash — including garbage bags, a plastic drum, and fish netting — inside the young whale’s stomach and intestines. The whale weighed about 13,000 pounds and wasn’t even fully grown, measuring in at just 33 feet long. That’s unusually small: Full-grown adult sperm whales can weigh up to 130,000 and be as long as 67 feet.
“The presence of plastics in the seas and oceans is one of the greatest threats to the conservation of wildlife throughout the world,” Consuelo Rosauro Meseguer, an environmental chemist in the region, told the New York Times.
It’s a particularly grim sign of just how bad pollution in the world’s oceans has become. Debris in the water has resulted in catastrophic consequences for wildlife — and the problem is getting worse at an alarming rate.
A giant trash cyclone in the Pacific Ocean, known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, has formed near the ocean’s surface. It’s comprised of some 87,000 tons of garbage, and that number is ever-growing.
VICE News has, on two occasions, documented the efforts of conservationists to combat pollution problems like garbage patches.
Humans discard the equivalent of one garbage truck’s worth of plastic into the ocean every minute, according to nonprofit environmental advocacy group Ocean Conservancy. It’s estimated that by 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish, according to the World Economic Forum.
Cover image: Sperm Whale, Physeter macrocephalus, Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain (Photo by Reinhard Dirscherl/ullstein bild via Getty Images)
This article originally appeared on VICE News US.