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Scientists have performed a necropsy on 13 whales found stranded on the beaches in Europe this year, and discovered that some of these giant mammals had large amounts of plastic debris, including car parts and a fisherman’s net in their stomachs.

Sperm whale strandings have become saddening but frequently reported news of late, with five beachings in the UK alone so far this year.

It is another tragic indictment into the effect man-made plastics are having on our marine life.

One of the stranded whales in Hunstanton, Norfolk in February. Image with thanks Rickylee Photography

One of the stranded whales in Hunstanton, Norfolk in February. Image with thanks Rickylee Photography

“These findings show us the effects of our plastic society: Animals inadvertently take in plastic and other plastic waste and suffer, and at worst, starve with full stomachs,”

environment minister for the German state of Schleswig-Holstein Robert Habeck said in a statement, also posting a photo of some of the items found inside the large mammals; debris which included a 13-meter-long fishing net, a 70-centimetre-long plastic car engine cover and the remains of a plastic bucket.

Image from environment minister Robert Habeck instagram showing some of the plastic found inside the whales

Scientists do not believe, however, that the whales were likely to have died as a direct result of the plastic itself, but rather from starvation and heart failure, as heavy storms are expected to have pushed the whale’s main source of food, squid, into the North Sea, leaving the giants to follow these into shallow water.

The Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC) has stated that upwards of 29 sperm whales, along with other species, have already stranded across the European shores this year, and that more than 3,000 strandings are recorded worldwide every year.

North sea sperm whale strandings 2016 ©Roman Richter/WDC

North sea sperm whale strandings 2016 ©Roman Richter/WDC

Luckily, however, not all strandings end with the gloomy sights seen on the coast of Norfolk in February this year. Many are considered to have died from natural causes and are then stranded posthumously, while some may be stranded due to shallow sand banks and can often be successfully refloated during higher tides.

Unfortunately, noise from activities such as oil drilling, collisions with boats and entanglement in fishing gear are all man-made activities that have been highlighted as having potential of increasing the risk of further beach strandings of the giant, squid-loving mammals.

Lead image with thanks Rickylee Photography 

Words Charlotte Vang

© The Maritime and Coastguard Agency who advised people to keep a safe distance away from the 14 metre sperm whale

© The Maritime and Coastguard Agency who advised people to keep a safe distance away from the 14 metre sperm whale

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