A massive killer whale washed up on shore in early January, in an area between Lincolnshire and Norfolk on the eastern coast of the UK. The 15-foot long orca was found decomposing in a salt marsh, where soon after the body was examined by the Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme (CSIP).
The researchers said that they found large amounts of plastic material inside the whale’s body, and they suspect that this is what led to the whale’s death.
While plastic pollution remains a serious and growing problem affecting all wildlife, this is the first beached killer whale that has been discovered in England and Wales for almost 20 years, according to the Zoological Society of London (ZSL).
Since recording began in 1990, only four other discoveries of washed-up orcas were made in England and Wales, so it is a fairly rare occurrence for the region.
Despite the rarity of these types of incidents, experts believe that orca populations are in steep decline, especially in the waters near the UK.
Interesting day out yesterday, examination of a fragrant juvenile male killer whale in the Wash- difficult terrain and access issues. First we’ve examined in England for nearly 20 years, more to follow next week. Huge thanks to @APCbirding RAF Holbeach and @MCA_media #CSIoftheSea pic.twitter.com/6MWw712oQz
— Rob Deaville (@strandings_man) January 11, 2020
In a statement after the recent finding, CSIP said, “Killer whales are a priority species for the project given the conservation pressure that they’re under — as apex predators, they’re unfortunately exposed to high levels of legacy chemical pollutants.”
One of the last known killer whales in the UK was found dead and trapped in netting on a Scottish island in 2016. Researchers also found a high concentration of banned toxic chemicals in the whale’s body, so it is unclear what exactly caused its death.
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Approximately 46% of the 79 thousand tons of ocean plastic in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is made up of fishing nets, according to the study published in March 2018 in Scientific Reports. The study also indicated that annual plastic consumption has reached over 320 million tonnes, with more plastic being produced in the last decade than ever before.
The National Journal estimates that about 20% of all the sea creatures who are caught in commercial fishing nets are “bycatch,” or unwanted animals. In most cases, humans are only able to see the devastation taking place in the ocean when it washes up on shore, but there is plenty going on in the water that we can’t see.
In one case last year, a massive floating net filled with hundreds of decomposing sharks and other sea creatures was discovered by a group of divers who were swimming near the Cayman Islands.
Image Credit: Rob Deaville