Marine pollution carries a direct effect for the surrounding environment, as well as the animals who make their homes in the depths of the ocean.
In August of 2014, biologists from the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center Standing Response Team were notified of a particularly unusual sighting regarding a long young female sei whale. She was spotted swimming up the river, which is particularly unusual as these creatures are typically found in the deep waters of the Atlantic.
"She was in the wrong place at the wrong time," said the aquarium's research coordinator Susan Barco, via National Geographic.
A necropsy revealed that the whale had swallowed a shard of rigid, black plastic that had lacerated its stomach and prevented it from eating. They found that she had also been struck by a ship.
Many whales will swim with their mouths open, taking in large volumes of ocean creatures and other surrounding substances. If trash is around, it can make it difficult for them to properly digest and eat, over time.
"It makes me very sad that a piece of plastic that was not disposed of properly ended up killing a whale," she said. "It was a preventable death."
Debris that's thrown into the ocean remains a significant problem for much of the aquatic life and environment. A 2014 study found that ingestion of debris has been documented in nearly 56 percent of cetacean species, with ingestion rates as high as 31 percent in some populations. Some animals are also more susceptible to the swallowing certain items than others, including sperm whales that are particularly susceptible to plastic debris ingestion.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries Southeast noted that the number of whales and dolphins impacted by floating marine debris continues to increase, leaving many whales and dolphins dead or emaciated from stomachs bursting with garbage.
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