Plastic bags and rubbish sacks were among 29kg of waste found in the digestive system of a dead sperm whale washed up on a beach in Spain.
The 32ft mammal was found near a lighthouse in Cabo de Palos, southeast Murcia, in February, with an investigation by the El Valle Wildlife Rescue Centre having now found that it died because it had been unable to digest a huge amount of human waste in its stomach and intestine.
Ropes, nets and even a drum had found their way inside the whale, with the centre’s autopsy ruling that it died due to inflammation of the abdominal lining, also known as peritonitis.
It weighed just seven tonnes when it was found, well below the 45 tonnes of an average male sperm whale, which normally feed on large squid, fish and sharks in the deep ocean.
The discovery has prompted the regional Murcia government to launch a campaign encouraging locals not to dump rubbish in the sea, which has been backed by the EU’s European Environment Agency and the European Commission’s European Fund for Regional Development.
Murcia’s environment director-general Consuelo Rosauro said: “The presence of plastics in seas and oceans is one of the greatest threats to the conservation of wildlife throughout the world, since many animals are trapped in the trash or ingest large amounts of plastic, which end up causing their death.
“The region of Murcia is no stranger to this problem, which we must tackle through clean-up actions and – above all – citizen awareness.”
At least 30 sperm whales are known to have washed up on European beaches in recent years, including 13 in northern Germany in 2016.
The find in Murcia was reminiscent of a scene off the Norway coast last year, when a distressed Cuvier beaked whale with 30 plastic bags wedged in its stomach had to be put down.
A post-mortem revealed its intestines were completely blocked with the bags and other items of plastic, some with English writing on them.
It was discovered in shallow waters off the island of Sotra, west of Bergen.