"In this whale’s stomach was approximately 100kg of marine debris - a whole range of plastic including sections of net, bundles of rope, plastic cups, bags, gloves, packing straps and tubing...it looked like it had been there for some time."

By Ian Horswill


Posted on December 3, 2019

A sperm whale left stranded on the beach of an island in Scotland, UK, only to later die had a 100kg ball of ocean and land litter in its stomach.

“By the time we got to it had been dead for 48 hours and pretty much most of the guts blew out of the side when we stuck a knife in it,” Scottish Marine Animal Strandings Scheme said on Facebook. “Animals this size are so well insulated that even though the temperature outside barely got above freezing, they don’t cool down and hence decompose incredibly quickly.”

However the contents of the stomach of the sperm whale horrified the team.

sperm whale

“In this whale’s stomach was approximately 100kg of marine debris – a whole range of plastic including sections of net, bundles of rope, plastic cups, bags, gloves, packing straps and tubing. All this material was in a huge ball in the stomach and some of it it looked like it had been there for some time. The animal wasn’t in particularly poor condition, and whilst it is certainly plausible that this amount of debris was a factor in its live stranding, we actually couldn’t find evidence that this had impacted or obstructed the intestines. This amount of plastic in the stomach is nonetheless horrific, must have compromised digestion, and serves to demonstrate, yet again, the hazards that marine litter and lost or discarded fishing gear can cause to marine life. It is also perhaps a good example that this is a global issue caused by a whole host of human activities. This whale had debris in its stomach which seemed to have originated from both the land and fishing sectors, and could have been swallowed at any point between Norway and the Azores. We are looking in more detail to see if we can work out quite why this animal ended up with so much of it in its stomach,” continued Scottish Marine Animal Strandings Scheme.

sperm whale

The male juvenile sperm whale was discovered on the Isle of Harris in the Outer Hebrides on 28 November. It took two days for the researchers to get to the beach.

The sperm whale was buried at the beach.