A dead sperm whale that washed up in Indonesia on Monday had more than 13 pounds of plastic waste in its stomach, according to local officials. An autopsy of the whale’s stomach turned up 115 plastic cups, 25 plastic bags, four plastic bottles, two flip-flops, some nylon, and more than 1,000 smaller plastic shards.
The carcass was examined on Monday by staff from Wakatobi National Park, a nearby preserve, along with World Wildlife Fund (WWF) researchers. Because the whale was in an advanced state of decomposition, It’s not clear that it died as a result of the plastic waste.
"Although we have not been able to deduce the cause of death, the facts that we see are truly awful," said Dwi Suprapti, a marine conservation expert at WWF Indonesia, according to ABC News. Whales have previously perished from plastic consumption; just a few months ago, a pilot whale died in Thailand as a result of ingesting 80 plastic bags.
Indonesia is second only to China as a producer of plastic pollution, according to a 2015 study in Environmental Health Perspectives (EHP). The archipelago nation has a population of 264 million and discards an estimated 3.2 million metric tons of mismanaged plastic waste per year, roughly half of which ends up in the ocean. Indonesia accounts for about 10 percent of the world’s total plastic pollution, while China is responsible for 27 percent.
The average American generates about 2.58 kilograms (5.7 pounds) of plastic waste per day, which is a much greater per capita amount than any other nation except Sri Lanka, according to the EHP study. But the US only contributes about 0.9 percent of marine plastic pollution because it has more developed waste management and recycling infrastructure.
This problem has galvanized Indonesians to advocate for curbing plastic use and developing stronger waste management programs. In 2017, Indonesia’s Ministry of Environment and Forestry resolved to invest up to $1 billion annually toward reducing plastic use by 70 percent before 2025.
Plastic presents serious risks to hundreds of marine species beyond whales. It can entrap, choke, and poison animals, and disrupt their natural habitats and behavior. If it continues to enter the oceans at anywhere near the current rate of 8.8 million tons a year, then sad instances of wildlife damage will only become more common.
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