A young sperm whale was found washed up on a beach in Wales after dying with a plastic sheet in its stomach.
The 6.7-metre (22ft) male calf was discovered at Hell’s Mouth, near Abersoch in Gwynedd, and is believed to be the first sperm whale to wash up on a Welsh beach since records began in 1913.
The mammal unfortunately passed away on the evening of Tuesday, October 29 and a post-mortem revealed that several pieces of marine debris had been inside the whale’s stomach. One of these pieces happened to be a ‘large piece of blue plastic sheeting’.
Rob Deaville, project manager for the Zoological Society of London’s Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme, told BBC News:
It is not possible to accurately assess whether the ingestion of debris was a result of the whale’s presence in the abnormal habitat of shallow waters around the UK, or if other underlying issues may have played a role in their ingestion.
However, it may have had some impact on the animal’s ability to digest any ingested prey. A large piece of blue plastic sheeting was found in the stomach and a relatively large mass of ropes.
A fishing line was also found inside the animal’s stomach, as well as ‘other plastic fragments, seaweed and minor nematode parasites’. The debris had not, however, become impacted, which would certainly have created a blockage to the stomach.
It is unclear as to how the malnourished creature ended up in the UK’s shallower waters, Wales Online reported.
Sperm whales usually live out their lives in the warmer waters of the south, where they can feast upon giant squid. Experts are now conducting tests which they hope will bring more clarity to the mystery of how this young whale ended up in the shallows of Hell’s Mouth.
This particular whale is the second smallest sperm whale on record in the UK and is believed to have come from a matriarchal pod, usually found in the more temperate southern waters of the UK.
The calf, estimated to be between two and three years of age, had not yet developed teeth and had likely still been surviving on its mother’s milk.
The spokesperson for British Divers Marine Life Rescue said:
Whales, dolphins and porpoises…are mammals like us humans, and therefore able to carry serious diseases that can be transmitted between us.
We would advise members of the public to avoid all contact with the carcass and any bodily fluids to avoid any risk of infection from them. There is the possibility that this may have been an animal that was already ill.
Less than a month ago, a sperm whale washed up and died in shallow waters off the Northumberland shore, close to Newbiggin-by-the-Sea.